A Career is Born at the Arecibo Observatory

Space & Atmospheric Sciences

Eframir Franco Díaz visiting the observatory as a child

Space & Atmoshperic Sciences

“Arecibo gave me everything.”

If you have visited the Arecibo Observatory in the past decade, you may have met Eframir Franco Díaz, who has worked as a researcher, lab assistant, technician, analyst, academic guide, and REU Coordinator at the observatory since he was a high school student in 2009.

And while Mr. Franco Díaz attributes his current, highly successful professional trajectory to what the Arecibo Observatory has given to him, his dedication to all aspects of the facility over the past 12 years has had a significant impact on the observatory itself.

“Eframir was always great to work with and greatly progressed our research during the many long nights he spent doing lidar observations,” shared AO Scientist Dr. Jens Lautenbach.

Since high school, Mr. Franco Díaz’s work has been intertwined with AO. He credits his positions at the observatory as the foundation for his scientific career. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the Leibniz-Institute for Atmospheric Physics (IAP) in Germany, focused on establishing a new Rayleigh-Mie-Raman Wind LIDAR system under the supervision of Dr. Michael Gerding and Prof. Dr. Franz-Josef Lübken.

“I am so happy for Eframir and I hope he will have the same great experience during his doctoral studies like I had when I was at IAP,” added Dr. Lautenbach.

Mr. Franco Díaz’s interest in pursuing science was kindled after winning three first place prizes in his High School science fairs, qualifying him to represent all of Puerto Rico at Intel’s Science and Engineering Fair. At the time, he was being mentored by Dr. Rafael Muller at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) at Humacao, who then connected him with former AO scientists Dr. Sixto Gonzalez and Dr. Nestor Aponte at the Arecibo Observatory so he could complete a summer internship in 2009.

He continued to pursue research at AO as an undergraduate student at UPR - Humacao. “Seeing how science works in a hands-on way at the observatory helped keep me motivated through the difficult physics courses I was taking,” says Mr. Franco Díaz. “It was not just all about books - this was how things really work.” He has continued his research with a number of scientists at AO, including Dr. Shikha Raizada, Dr. Jens Lautenbach, and Dr. Christiano Brum.

Picture of Eframir and his mentee, Andy Lopez

Recalling his favorite memories at Arecibo, Mr. Franco Díaz remarks on how he always felt so connected with everyone - the engineers, scientists, staff - everyone. “The culture and people are amazing.”

Of course his first trip up to the platform was also an extremely memorable one. “I am afraid of heights,” admits Mr. Franco Díaz. “But it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I went up the platform. It is a very cherished memory for me.” In addition to Mr. Franco Díaz’s scientific pursuits at AO, he is also proud of his role in establishing the updated Ángel Ramos Foundation Visitor & Science Center. As someone who had worked with every science group at AO, he was uniquely suited to contribute to the scientific writing on the upgraded displays and to make sure the center had the intended scientific and motivational impact on all visitors.

“When I was a kid, after seeing the telescope, I told my dad that I would one day work at the Arecibo Observatory. When I made that dream a reality, my parents were just like - ‘wow’,” says Mr. Franco Díaz. “That is why it was so important for me to support the improvements to the Visitor Center - so the next generation of scientists could learn about the scientific work being done at AO and also be inspired.”

Mr. Franco Díaz’s training of the next generation of scientists extends beyond the Visitor & Science Center. In 2014 - 2015, he began mentoring another aspiring scientist, Andy Lopez, who reminded him a bit of himself. With Mr. Franco Díaz’s guidance, Mr. Lopez’s research earned him the honor of representing Puerto Rico at the Intel Science and Engineering fair, just as Mr. Franco Díaz’s research had 5 years earlier. Mr. Lopez is now a PhD student pursuing planetary science at the University of Northern Arizona. “As Sixto had opened the door for me, I was able to do the same for Andy,” remarks Mr. Franco Díaz.

In parallel to his many contributions to the Arecibo Observatory, Mr. Franco Díaz has had a series of impressively diverse and productive professional experiences. While earning his Master’s Degree from the Catholic University of America, he was also a Research Assistant and a Student Space Weather Forecaster at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center under the guidance of Dr. Brent Randol and Dr. Yaireska Collado-Vega respectively. He also spent time working at the Jicamarca Radio Observatory in Peru under the supervision of Dr. Jorge Chau.

Eframir Franco Díaz working at the Arecibo Observatory Lidar Facility

It was the mix of opportunities and types of research he explored at AO and elsewhere that helped sculpt his scientific interests. “I got a taste of everything,” says Mr. Franco Díaz, “and I ended up finding my passion working on LIDAR systems, which I only know about because of my experience at AO.”

"My time at Arecibo was life-changing. I had no idea that a call from Sixto while I was in High School would ultimately result in me pursuing a PhD in Germany, and who knows where it will lead to next?"- Eframir Franco Díaz, Phd Student at Leibniz-Institute for Atmospheric Physics (IAP)

“My time at Arecibo was life-changing. I had no idea that a call from Sixto while I was in High School would ultimately result in me pursuing a PhD in Germany, and who knows where it will lead to next?” wonders Mr. Franco Díaz, who says he will always recognize the importance of the facility in his life and the lives of so many others:

“Arecibo is my second home. Most of the people I know who have worked there feel the same, no matter the state of the telescope.”

Article written by Dr. Tracy Becker - AO Collaborator / SwRI Research Scientist Contact: tbecker@swri.edu

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