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Hartnell College Alumni Success Stories

Dr. Joe Hennawi - Cosmologist

Dr. Joe Hennawi sees remarkable things as he looks at the screen of his laptop connected to the Nordic Optical Telescope on the volcanic island of La Palma, some 2400 meters above the sea; remarkable things that have taken him far from his hometown of Salinas.

Dr. Joe Hennawi & Dr. Jesse Cude with the Astonomy Club at Salinas High School.
Dr. Joe Hennawi & Dr. Jesse Cude with the Astonomy Club at Salinas High School.

His friends at Salinas High School might not have predicted this journey when Joe came to Hartnell to play sports. “I wasn’t the greatest student in the world,” he says, “and I wasn’t sure of what I really wanted to do until I found what my passion was.” Joe has found that passion as a cosmologist, one of a dozen of the world’s leading experts on dark matter. He is a Hubble Fellow at UC Berkeley, completing a journey that took him through Stanford as an undergraduate and Princeton, where he earned his Ph.D. in astrophysics.

Joe’s love affair with physics began when he took his first physics class at Hartnell from Dr. Jesse Cude. The two have been working on physics together ever since. Last January, they embarked on a trip to the world-famous Nordic Optical Telescope observatory in the Canary Islands, looking for gravitational lenses that are generated by dark matter. Only a few of them have ever been found. “Nothing can compare to the thrill you experience once you find one, because you know you are looking at something that no one in the world has seen before,” says Jesse.

Dr. Joe Hennawi & Dr. Jesse Cude by the Nordic Optical Telescope observatory in the Canary Islands.
Dr. Joe Hennawi & Dr. Jesse Cude by the Nordic Optical Telescope observatory in the Canary Islands.

Last year, the two men were honored by the City of Salinas as champions for their achievements in science and the outreach work they do to promote science in the schools.

In March, they gave presentations to astronomy students at Salinas High School. Joe speaks about how he came to be a cosmologist and encourages students to sign up for a summer college bridge experience at Hartnell that explores math and science through inquiry-based activities.

Joe’s advice to the students is “Study what you really have a passion for.”