Finn Witt ’21

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Right now, a peculiar asteroid is swinging slowly around the sun. Meet 16 Psyche—with a diameter of 140 miles, scientists suppose it is the core of an ancient protoplanet, blown away by rocky collisions long ago.

Last year, here on Earth, Finn Witt ’21 interned with NASA’s Psyche Inspired program and helped spread the word about this space giant.

An asteroid first discovered in the 1850s, 16 Psyche has drawn much attention through the years for its unusual metallic makeup. NASA is set to launch a Psyche probe to orbit the asteroid in 2022—arrival time, 2026—to learn more about the goings-on of rocky planet cores.

Witt, a biochemistry major from Kinnelon, New Jersey, was familiar with this mission before he landed the internship with Psyche Inspired. Based at Arizona State University, Psyche Inspired recruits undergraduate students of all disciplines to share the Psyche mission with the public through a variety of creative projects.

“It was a nice crossroads between getting the public excited about what was going on and science,” Witt said.

Getting creative

The internship program takes place over one academic year. During this time, students must create four projects of their choosing that represent the Psyche mission in an artistic way. These projects are shared on the Psyche mission’s social media platforms to get the public engaged with the upcoming launch.

Witt’s projects bear witness to the creativity afforded by Psyche Inspired. He completed a string quartet composition and three paintings, one of which had to go digital when his work was interrupted by the pandemic. But even that was a learning experience.

“It pushed me into digital art, and I do it more now,” Witt said. “It was a new technique for me.” 

Making connections

The communication and collaboration involved in Psyche Inspired stand out to Witt. The students met each week via video chat to discuss their projects. They also met with researchers and reviewed their findings.

“I really enjoyed getting to meet different people in different fields,” Witt said. “I had a lot of fun talking to engineers who worked for NASA and other institutions.”

The internship may be over but Witt’s career in science is just getting started. He is on track to complete the first portion of his dual-degree program; after earning his biochemistry major, he will move on to Washington State University to complete a degree in mechanical engineering. He is currently finishing up his capstone, studying whether bacterial species can survive on Mars.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Office of Communications.