K-State Research and Extension News
September 19, 2012
Share  Email the story

Kansas’ Night Sky Inspires Space Research

Photo and cutline available

Also see 4-H Science Day to Focus on Robotics, Can-do Attitude

MANHATTAN, Kan.Growing up in Kansas has its perks, including dark, and clear night skies that make it easy to see the stars.

On such a night, when the air is crisp, and, well, almost delicious, six-year-old Laura Blecha remembers asking her father: “Why can’t I see the man in the moon?”

Her father, Lynn Blecha, answered the question, explaining that the mountains and valleys on the moon create shadows that give the appearance of a man’s face.”

Laura was eager to know more and, with her parents’ encouragement, began reading about the moon, stars, space and space travel while growing up in Manhattan, Kan.

“I loved the night skies,” said Blecha, who credits her parents, father Lynn, a master builder, and her mother, Alice, a teacher, who nurtured, rather than discouraged, their daughter’s interest in science – and space.

The Blecha family encouraged education in the classroom – and out, and was active for many years in the College Hill 4-H Club in Manhattan, Kan.

Blecha gives her father high marks as a volunteer woodworking project leader, and noted that attending space camp (which then was a collaboration between Kansas 4-H and the Kansas Cosmosphere, in Hutchinson, Kan.), further inspired her science-based career goal.

She also credits a 4-H staple – building skills in public speaking during 4-H demonstrations – as an asset that helped her build her career.

“While some in my college and graduate school classes struggled with presentations about their projects and research, I’m comfortable speaking before a group.” she said.

“Being able to do that makes it easier to focus on the subject, and that enhances my presentations and my work,” she said.

Blecha graduated from Manhattan High School, and earned a four-year Bachelor’s of Science Degree in physics and integrated sciences at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Her academic performance earned her a year of study about astronomy and research in Cambridge, England, and, when she returned to the U.S., she earned a spot in the Ph.D. program in astronomy and astrophysics at Harvard, in Cambridge, Mass. 

With the vision for her career established early in her life, as a graduate student at Harvard, Blecha volunteered with Cambridge area afterschool programs introducing science-related topics and experiments to girls as young as kindergarten and into middle school, while also encouraging teen mentors to assist.

Blecha completed her degree at Harvard earlier this year, and, this fall, is beginning an Einstein Fellowship funding a post-doctoral research position that will enable her to continue researching the energy produced by black holes in the centers of galaxies.

Blecha’s Fellowship is one of twelve awarded annually through an international competitive process.

She is one of only four women selected, and said the three-year fellowship will provide a salary and research expenses. She’ll be based at the University of Maryland, in College Park, Md., which also is providing an additional two-year research position in its Joint Space Sciences Institute.

In working to follow her dream, Blecha, who is now 29 years old, is encouraging to others, and especially to young women considering science as a career.

“Science holds our interest,” said Blecha, who remains enthusiastic about her dream – and her work.                                                             


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Nancy Peterson
K-State Research & Extension News

Laura Blecha is available at 1-617-767-6664 or lblecha@gmail.com