South senior looking to the stars

Rick Wagner • Aug 19, 2018 at 9:00 AM

KINGSPORT — What makes stars and black holes tick?

Sullivan South High School student Aidan Henopp might find out in the future. This summer, thanks to QuestBridge, he won transportation and expenses to participate in the Summer Science Program in Astrophysics, an experience that otherwise would cost more than $8,000, but was provided free by the nonprofit program.

As a senior, Henopp is seeking to win a four-year QuestBridge scholarship at a nationally renowned university in astrophysics, which would be worth more than $65,000 per year.

“MIT and Cal Tech are my two major ones,” Henopp said of his universities of choice.

Henopp will turn 18 in May, the same month he will graduate from South and his mother, Katrina Henopp, will graduate with a double major bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and behavioral neuroscience from East Tennessee State University. His mother plans to pursue a master’s and doctorate at ETSU. His sister, Colonial Heights Middle seventh-grader Sienna Bright, wants to go into engineering and is interested in the QuestBridge program, too.

“It’s an amazing program for people who qualify for the opportunity,” Henopp said.

Henopp said he found the QuestBridge program while looking at colleges for their physics programs online, specifically at a link on the MIT website. He said the program is open to students in any major, as long as they qualify academically and financially. According to his mother, a family of four with an annual income of $64,000 is eligible.

Henopp has a 4.0 grade point average at South, which does not have weighted grades, except starting with this year’s incoming freshman class. He’s been in Sullivan County Schools since second grade, having gone to schools in Hawkins and Carter counties before that. He, his mother and sister live in Mount Carmel, and his mother is a graduate of Volunteer High School.


 “Astrophysics is my ideal major for college,” Henopp said, adding that with that major he could work for SpaceX or NASA, but that he would prefer to do research and academic work. He said he believes his niche will be quantum astrophysics, which is “basically how the insides of stars and black holes work.”

At the Summer Science Program in Astrophysics, affiliated with MIT, he and other students studied asteroids that are near Mars and Earth and that someday could hit one of those planets, maybe in millions of years. For instance, he said the group found in a simulation that a particular asteroid had a 3 percent chance of colliding with Earth in 500 million years, which means it has a 97 percent chance of not crashing into Earth in that timeframe.

However, he said there is an asteroid that will come close to Earth in 2025.

Before the summer program, Henopp said he was torn between aerospace and astrophysics but that during the program he saw that astrophysics is where he wants to be. He also came to wish he had taken calculus, which he is taking at South. 

“I was just learning calculus as I went.”

Henopp also said he wanted to thank South’s teachers for their help in getting him ready for college, including Ann Dunn for Algebra II; Krystal Wall for geometry and trigonometry; Tara Peters for pre-calculus and calculus; Gerri St. Clair for chemistry and helping with Scholar’s Bowl on PBS and Science Bowl; Ben Davenport for Advanced Placement U.S. history and European history and Scholars Bowl; Tom Rutherford for astronomy and scientific research and Science Bowl; and Jan Street for English.

Last year, Henopp took two journalism classes and was editor of the school newspaper, Death Valley News, but he can’t be editor this year because he’s taking AP calculus. He also is a member of the Key Club, National Honor Society, Beta Club and Chess Club at South, as well as Mount Carmel United Methodist Church. 


Henopp said the application process for QuestBridge as a senior has already started and will end in late September, when the last essays and paperwork are due. He will find out if he won a scholarship in December. Then, he will apply to QuestBridge-affiliated schools, ranking them in order of preference, and the highest-preference one that accepts him will be his university. In case he doesn’t win, he will apply to other schools, too. He can apply to a maximum of 12 but said he probably will do five or six.

Normally Cal Tech takes 4 percent of applicants and MIT 8 percent. However, of 78 students in last year’s Summer Science Program, he said that among the group 26 were accepted by MIT, 16 by Cal Tech, 12 by Stanford, 12 by Harvard and 15 by Yale. Even if he’s not accepted into the senior QuestBridge program, he said the experience and process will help him no matter where he goes to college.


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