On the third floor of the Applied Engineering and Technology building at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Angela Speck’s office is a miniature space station. Images of the universe line the walls. There is a graph of the light spectrum on the ground. Books on physics, astronomy and solar eclipses are stacked on shelves. And the sofa is a brilliant purple – emblematic of a distant star in a distant galaxy.
Speck is a huge space fan, which is no surprise. As chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UTSA, she has made it her mission to study the world outside Earth. Its deeper interest, however, is specific and often misunderstood. Stardust – the ejected material of dying stars – is simultaneously within every living being and largely a mystery. Researchers, like Speck, are studying the natural space stuff remotely, analyzing its composition and qualities.