6/05/2020 Alicia Morrissey

#FandMInspires: Richard Camuccio’s Dreams Are Out of This World

#FandMInspires is our tag for uplifting stories that show Diplomats of all ages improving themselves, encouraging others and affirming ideals that strengthen society. 

When he received a telescope for his birthday as a child, Richard Camuccio ’16 was transported to a whole new world.

“I remember looking at the moon through it for the first time and I just thought it was an incredible sight. Seeing it as a place rather than something just in the sky,” he said.

Camuccio followed this fascination to Franklin & Marshall College, where he majored in astrophysics.

While at F&M, Camuccio undertook a huge endeavor: restoring the Grundy Observatory. During the restoration, Camuccio learned how to build a team, manage a project and write budget proposals. He also learned how to remain disciplined and believe in himself when confronted by doubt and uncertainty. But the most important lesson Camuccio learned was that he is capable of overcoming any obstacle if he puts his mind to it. 

“Become willing to fail many times,” he said of his venture. “Accept denial and uncertainty as necessary truths of the endeavor, but ultimately prevail by sticking to an articulated and well-thought-out goal.” 

F&M Documentary: Richard Camuccio '16

Video by Alexander Monelli.  CASE Circle of Excellence National Award Winner – 2016.

After graduating from F&M, Camuccio moved to Brownsville, Texas, to pursue a master’s degree in physics at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). Through a series of connections—stemming from the award-winning documentary directed by Alexander Monelli shown above—Camuccio met his current adviser, Mario Diaz, who had been looking for an assistant director for his observatory, the Cristina Torres Memorial Observatory (CTMO) at UTRGV. Camuccio’s experience and enthusiasm were a perfect fit.

“Needless to say, F&M has greatly helped me in my career,” Camuccio said.

In addition to his role at CTMO, Camuccio has been working as a graduate researcher at the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy (CGWA) at UTRGV with the director and his adviser, Diaz. With this opportunity came another: being a member of the TOROS Collaboration—a team of scientists from around the world—and ultimately being involved in an incredible discovery.

On Aug. 17, 2017, the first detected neutron star merger took place—and Camuccio and his TOROS Collaboration team members participated in the first discovery of the optical counterpart (called a kilonova).

“My thesis was a study of this kilonova, an explosion unlike one ever seen in the universe,” he said. 

Until this discovery, astronomers couldn’t explain where certain heavy elements came from in the universe. Because of Camuccio and the TOROS Collaboration, as well as the 70 other teams worldwide that observed the event, it’s now known that so-called “lanthanide” elements are entirely produced by these types of merger events.

“This was an unprecedented and multifaceted discovery,” Camuccio said.

  • The Cristina Torres Memorial Observatory at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley The Cristina Torres Memorial Observatory at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  • Camuccio with colleagues in an optics lab installing photometric filters into a CCD camera for a telescope Camuccio with colleagues in an optics lab installing photometric filters into a CCD camera for a telescope

Camuccio is still assistant director at CTMO. Here, he primarily conducts his own research, which follows up on gravitational wave events to search for more kilonovae. He also observes exoplanets, trans-Neptunian objects in the outer solar system (which he describes as similar to new, Pluto-like objects), and asteroids.

Most recently, Camuccio successfully defended his master’s thesis, which centered on  detecting optical counterparts to gravitational waves, and accepted an offer to pursue his doctorate at Texas Tech University. He begins his studies in the fall.

  • Camuccio preparing to defend his master's thesis Camuccio preparing to defend his master's thesis
  • Mini-dome cluster Camuccio and colleagues constructed outside the main dome at the Cristina Torres Memorial Observatory Mini-dome cluster Camuccio and colleagues constructed outside the main dome at the Cristina Torres Memorial Observatory

When it comes to another passion he pursued as a student at F&M—the principles of Zen and the martial arts code—Camuccio’s commitment hasn’t wavered. 

“I'm practicing a heavy routine daily and trying my best to adhere to the philosophies of Bruce Lee, among other areas in eastern and western philosophies,” he said.

This dedication extends to his astronaut dreams, as well. Many years after seeing the moon through his telescope for the first time, Camuccio hasn’t forgotten the dreams the life-changing experience sparked.

“I still want to be an astronaut,” Camuccio said. “It has never left my mind. It remains my ultimate goal in life, and always will.”

 

Director's Note

"I remember this film premiering at the annual Tribute Dinner during Homecoming & Family Weekend in 2015 (now known as TRUE BLUE Weekend), which includes many of the college's trustees and donors. Richard and his family were invited to the event as well. It felt like a movie premiere and I was glad Richard got the attention he deserved. His story and personality impressed me so much when we were filming and I loved the dichotomy between science and eastern philosophy. All of the Bruce Lee stuff in the film was discovered after the initial plans were in place. I was a Bruce Lee fan as a kid and when I noticed the posters in his room we instantly started talking about Bruce Lee and eastern philosophies. I knew it had to go in the film. This film also won a national Circle of Excellence award from CASE as one of the top 'student recruitment' videos in the country in 2016."

— Alexander Monelli, video producer

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