Bengal village teen bags top Nasa scholarship

KOLKATA: Eighteen-year-old Sataparna Mukherjee, a Class 12 student from a village around 30km from Kolkata, has been selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) for its prestigious Goddard Internship Programme under the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). She is among five scholars chosen from across the world for this programme.

Nasa's GIP selects five exceptional individuals from across the world every year and funds their entire education after school.

Sataparna, who will appear for her school-leaving exams this year from St Judes School, Madhyamgram, in Kamduni - it gained notoriety for a brutal gangrape in 2013 - will be at Oxford University, where she she will pursue graduation, post-graduation and PhD (as Nasa faculty) in aerospace engineering at its London Astrobiology Centre.

Sataparna told TOI, "It all started in May last year when I was a member of a group on a social networking site where there were many members, including some scientists. One day I shared some of my thoughts on 'Black Hole Theory', and one of the members of this group gave me Nasa's official website and told me to post my findings, which I did." Sataparna's paper on Black Hole Theory, and how this could be used to create a 'Time Machine', was hugely appreciated. "I am very happy to get this opportunity where I will also work as a researcher at the Nasa centre in London," she said.

Under the Goddard Internship Programme, Sataparna will work as an "employee and researcher", where she will be part of its earth science and technology development programme. Nasa is paying her a generous sum as honorarium, apart from bearing all her expenses.

Her father Pradip Mukheree, a headmaster of a primary school who led a people's movement against goons and political pressure to drop the infamous June 2013 Kamduni gang-rape case, said, "She has made us, and the entire country, proud."

Pulak Chakraborty, a professor of English at the Nabagram Hiralapal College, who's acting as Sataparna's referee at Oxford, said, "She is a very good student and her ability should not be judged through her marks alone. She is original, and that has made her attain so much."

"She is going on August 17," said Pradip. "Though every cost is borne by the university and Nasa, we will arrange for the passage money, which is quite high. I am thinking of taking a loan because I don't want to let this opportunity go," he said.

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