From Student to Staff: Green Bank Observatory’s Newest Software Engineer

Matthew Harrison, second from front, photographed at the dish of the Green Bank Telescope during undergraduate research in 2017.

When Matthew Harrison first set foot on the campus of the Green Bank Observatory in 2017 for an undergraduate summer workshop, he had no idea he’d be returning in 2020 as the Observatory’s newest Software Engineer.

Growing up in the small, rural community of Brookfield, in central New York, he stargazed frequently from his backyard, thanks to the low light pollution in this remote area. Over time, his scientific curiosity grew into a professional passion, and he began to consider what life could be like as an astronomer.

Matthew became familiar with the Observatory, home of the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) the world’s largest steerable radio telescope, through his studies at Siena College in Loudonville, New York. As a physics major, Matthew became a part of the National Science Foundation’s undergraduate ALFALFA team. This program looks for neutral hydrogen in galaxies outside the Milky Way, using the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope in Puerto Rico. This program shares student training in radio astronomy at the Green Bank Observatory. The strength of the radio telescopes of Arecibo and the GBT are often combined for many types of scientific research.

Matthew enjoyed his time in Green Bank, “I got to see an observation run with the GBT. I was fascinated when I learned about everything that went into operating the Observatory smoothly. This experience was a highlight of my academic career and it opened my eyes to some paths related to astronomy that I had not yet considered.”

Halfway through his studies, Matthew changed his major from physics to computer science.

“I realized I wanted a job that revolved around coding, in a practical but complex and engaging environment. I tried to consider which jobs I would enjoy most, which would give the best opportunities to learn, and which jobs would be in a field I am passionate about. All I could think about was Green Bank, and how much I want to work somewhere like that.”

The timing couldn’t be better, as the Observatory happened to be looking for a new software engineer to join the team. “I am very proud that I will be contributing to the work of the Observatory. I know that I will learn so much from working with the software team and all of the other talented professionals. I have wanted to come back to Green Bank ever since I left in 2017.”

Learn more about opportunities for students and employment at the Green Bank Observatory.

The Green Bank Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation and is operated by Associated Universities, Inc.

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Contacts:

Jill Malusky, Public Relations, jmalusky@nrao.edu

Tracy Samples, Human Resources tsamples@nrao.edu