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Austin Peay State University physics student Deborah Gulledge named “Scientist of the Week” at National Lab

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – The night sky is darker, the stars brighter, in Mount Pleasant, Tennessee. The rural town sits about an hour south of Nashville, where the heavens are dimmed by excessive light pollution, and as a girl, Deborah Gulledge became curious about the brilliant stars above her home.

“I was always interested in astronomy,” she said recently.

APSU student Deborah Gulledge
APSU student Deborah Gulledge

While still a high school student, this growing interest in the sciences took her to Austin Peay State University, where she attended the state’s Governors School in Computation Physics one summer. That’s where Gulledge, whose senior class had only 60 students, learned about the incredible research opportunities available at Austin Peay.

“When I first came here, I heard about students who got to travel a lot and do a lot of research, and I thought that was the most amazing thing,” she said. “But I never thought I’d get to be one of those students.”

A year later, Gulledge enrolled at Austin Peay as a physics major, and in the last four years, she has traveled twice to the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, high in the Andes Mountains of Chile, to conduct research for the international Dark Energy Survey. This research has also taken her to Fermilab—the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratory— as an undergraduate research intern, and in January, lab officials named her Fermilab’s Scientist of the Week.

“It was exciting that they picked me,” she said. “They choose me based on research I presented at the American Astronomical Society Meeting in Washington, D.C.—research I’ve done on the Dark Energy Survey.”

The survey, according to the project’s website, “is designed to probe the origin of the accelerating universe and help uncover the nature of dark energy by measuring the 14-billion-year history of cosmic expansion with high precision.”

Gulledge plans to graduate this May and continue on in graduate school next year to pursue her Ph.D. in astrophysics. And she credits Austin Peay with helping her achieve this goal.

“I have loved it here, and I would not want to go anywhere else for undergrad,” she said. “It’s a small school, but the physics department is the most incredible department I could ever ask for.”

Before she leaves for graduate school, the former Governors School student will return to the program this summer as an instructor. And she’s excited about helping another budding scientist from Mt. Pleasant.

“My baby sister got accepted this year, so I get to mentor her,” she said.


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