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Antara Sen & Beth Ellen Clark Joseph

On a NASA mission, Antara Sen ’22 and Professor Beth Ellen Clark Joseph set national research and lifelong friendship into motion.

Antara Sen (L) and Beth Ellen Clark Joseph (R) walk down a hallway.

Antara Sen (L) and Beth Ellen Clark Joseph (R) discuss their work on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission.

Antara Sen ’22 dug into research for NASA their first year at Ithaca College, but they remember starting out as a nervous student.  

“I wasn't very sure about my skills or my aptitudes at all,” confesses Antara, a double physics and mathematics major. “I’ve had a mentality that natural ability is what gets people places. And I never thought I had it.”  

Antara took refuge in physics classes where they combined curiosity (“I like to understand things to the really, really minor details”) with a passion for building things. An international student who calls Malaysia home, they found friends and a sense of family in “the cozy, very comfy” physics department, where students and faculty work together on a first name basis.  

But it took time and mentorship—along with an understanding that it’s okay “to ask” and “to be in the dark”—to build Antara’s confidence.   

Professor Beth Ellen Clark Joseph, chair of IC’s physics department, served as one of Antara’s first research advisors. “Beth’s been this one constant who’s pushed me further and further and has helped me apply skills that I didn’t even know I had,” says Antara.

“This is where I became who I want to be for the rest of my life. This place has a way of cultivating greatness, I think.” 

Antara Sen

Joining NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission 

Right before the pandemic lockdown in 2020, Beth welcomed Antara into NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission science team—a seven-year research undertaking and 1.4-billion-mile spacecraft journey to investigate possible origins of life and to analyze the cause of forces that could send the target asteroid (Bennu) toward Earth in the next millenium. By extracting and returning a sample from the asteroid, the mission is also providing ground truth for our telescopic study of millions of other asteroids. 

During the mission, Beth and Antara transitioned from working in the laboratory to long, pandemic-induced Zoom sessions exploring the mission’s target, asteroid Bennu. The result? By the end of the summer, Antara and Beth published their first cowritten paper

For Beth, Antara’s sharp questions and exciting observations drove the research forward. On Zoom screens every day for months, they built a personal relationship, too. Antara became close friends with Beth’s entire family. (“They help my daughters writing college applications and essays.”)  

“No matter where I go from here, she’s always going to be my mentor—and one of my dearest friends,” says Antara.  

“I tell Antara all the time, I will always be invested in your future,” says Beth.  

Antara is confident about that next step—studying biophysics in graduate school. Ultimately, they see themselves working in academia and teaching students that physics is not a “big, scary gatekeeping monster.” They like to imagine coming back to Ithaca College one day as faculty. 

“This is where I became who I want to be for the rest of my life,” says Antara. “This place has a way of cultivating greatness, I think.”