Local student participates in prestigious astrophysics program in New Mexico

Kavish Kondap
(Copyright of Kavish Kondap)

Even before he started competing on a robotics team in middle school, Kavish Kondap knew he wanted to pursue a career in engineering.

Kavish, going into his senior year at Francis Parker Upper School, said one of his first projects used machine learning to forecast whether Kickstarter online fundraising campaigns would be successful.

“It’s actually really hard to get something funded, so my first project was about using machine learning to predict whether or not a given project was going to succeed,” Kavish said. “And then immediately after that I fell in love with the idea of doing research.”

He said he also participated in research at UC Santa Barbara, predicting the orbits of asteroids and whether they would strike Earth.

Kavish’s latest foray into astrophysics was at the Summer Science Program in New Mexico, which ran for 39 days from mid June through July. The program, which started in 1959 and is operated by a nonprofit, brings together a little more than 30 students from around the world for “academic challenge, collaboration, and personal growth,” according to a news release.

The host sites include the New Mexico State University, University of Colorado Boulder, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Purdue University and Indiana University. In addition to astrophysics, the program also has biochemistry and genomics divisions. It is open to mostly high school juniors and some sophomores.

Kavish said that the application process was similar to college admissions, with the program requiring a resume, transcript, test scores and letters of recommendation. His days started with a three-hour lecture in math or physics. Students were also given problem sets that encouraged collaboration due to their degree of difficulty.

“You were almost forced to work with other people, which I think was an incredible experience,” Kavish said.

He also spent late nights from 1-3 a.m. observing an asteroid for the program’s research component, with the next day’s lecture starting at 9 a.m.

“It was a lot of work, but at the same time we were around other people who all had the same interests, who were all here to learn,” Kavish said. “So it was a really great experience.”

He added that he wants to major in mechanical engineering in college with a minor in computer science and astrophysics.

“And then my ultimate goal is to work at either NASA or SpaceX as an engineer to build rovers that go to other planets,” Kavish said. “That would be the dream job, I’d really love to do that one day.”