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Asteroids offer "pie in the sky" for astronomy student

October 3, 2011

Asteroids offer
Tyler August, MSc'12

Tyler August grew up amongst the blackened hills of Sudbury. His grandfather worked the mines and his father designs mining equipment. It isn't any wonder that Tyler wants to be a miner. The difference is, he wants to mine the sky.

Tyler decided to come to Western for his master’s in Astronomy and Planetary Science because it is the premier university in Canada for Planetary Science. He feels privileged to receive the Wallace and Margaret McCain Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS). OGS awards are funded by generous donors to Western and are matched 2:1 by the provincial government, tripling the value of a gift. They are designed to encourage excellence in graduate studies at the master’s and doctoral levels.

Tyler says it’s his roots in Sudbury that have inspired his dream.

“The Sudbury basin is a scar; it is a crater left by an asteroid that hit Earth 1.8 billion years ago. That’s the source of the city’s tremendous mineral wealth - the melting caused by that impact and what little was left of the asteroid after it hit. So I’ve seen the wealth one asteroid can bring, and it’s tremendous. It was inevitable that living at the bottom of a crater I would tend to look up.”

Tyler says we can get at the wealth of an asteroid in space, without it ever coming near any living beings.

“With more and more people cutting slices of what we have on Earth, we need more pie. Pie in the sky may be the best hope we have.”

Tyler believes asteroids hold both secrets of the distant past and promise of a shining future. For the past: asteroids are lumps of rock and metal that avoided being made into planets and studying them can tell us much about the origins of our solar system. For the future: they are lumps of rock and metal that we can shape and use. Metallic asteroids are rich in elements, which are terribly rare on Earth, such as platinum. Others are rich in water and organic materials that we could use to support human life. Right now, Tyler’s work is looking at the past, but the scientific data he is generating could someday be used for the future as well.

Tyler is thankful for the student scholarship support he has received and says it is vital to the university community.

“Everyone says the 21st century is going to be shaped by a knowledge economy. And where else but at university are we going to get the knowledge to compete? Private donations are absolutely essential and I am very grateful.”

This article appeared in the 2011 edition of Endowment Report
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