High school physical science interns explore the universe

Astronomy professor Puragra Guhathakurta, known to his students as "Raja," coordinates the physical sciences internship program. (Photo by Dan White)

Thousands of high-school students spend summer vacations flipping cheeseburgers or saying "paper or plastic?" all day long.

And then there's Michelle Deng, who is only 16 years old, but if you ask her how she's spending her vacation, she'll explain that she's "using the spectra of stars to extract information about their chemical abundances."

If you ask Anirudh Suvarna, 16, he'll talk about his adventures "analyzing velocities and the brightness profile of a simulated galaxy."

Deng and Suvarna are part of a select group of brainy, super-motivated high school students taking part in a UC Santa Cruz summer program founded by astronomy professor Puragra Guhathakurta that helps young people delve deeply into research in the physical sciences with professional mentors to guide them.