Release Date: 
Thursday, June 8, 2023

HawkStrong: From hard labor to hard study in black holes and astrophysics

Marie Fawaz, Cortney Rinehart, Anthony Preston (at the Wayne State podium), Jesse Mason, and Dr. Kristen Dage.
L-R: HFC students Marie Fawaz, Cortney Rinehart, Anthony Preston, HFC physics and astronomy instructor Jesse Mason, and McGill University physics professor Dr. Kristen Dage at the Compact Objects in Michigan and Ontario Conference at Wayne State University. Preston's presentation was “The Search for Intermediate Mass Black Holes."

After dropping out of college the first time he tried it, Anthony Preston decided to give college one more chance.

He enrolled at HFC for the Winter 2022 semester. And that decision has transformed his life.

“I was tired of working hard-labor jobs and decided to go back to school. I enrolled at HFC because it has a good reputation and would be much more affordable than going back to a university,” explained Preston. “I should have come to HFC first. HFC is much different. It’s much more welcoming and friendly. Faculty reach out to you to help them do some cool things. I made a lot of friends along the way, too. I really enjoy the atmosphere of HFC.”

Primary goal is full-time research

The eldest of two, Preston was born in McAllen, TX. His family moved to Southgate when he was young, and he has lived there ever since. A graduate of Southgate Anderson High School, Preston is studying physics at the College and will graduate in 2024. After graduation, he plans to transfer to either the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where he has completed some coursework, or Wayne State University to major in astrophysics. He hopes to earn a doctorate in astrophysics.

“A full-time research institution is my primary goal,” said Preston, who will join the Henry Ford II Honors Program in the Fall 2023 semester.

“The Search for Intermediate Mass Black Holes”

Preston recently presented at the Compact Objects in Michigan and Ontario Conference at Wayne State University. His presentation was called “The Search for Intermediate Mass Black Holes.” Fellow HFC students Marie Fawaz and Cortney Rinehart co-presented with Preston.

“The presentation covered intermediate mass black holes’ presence in nature and how they evolve over cosmological time,” said Preston.

But the presentation wasn't the only important outcome for him at his first-time conference.

“I heard lots of questions during the presentation and after. It gave me the chance to network. I got to meet plenty of college students, undergrads and post-grads, conducting research on black holes, white dwarves, and stellar bodies. This was pretty cool for my first experience,” he said.

“Anthony Preston was one of two dozen undergraduate student researchers presenting their latest findings at the conference,” said HFC physics and astronomy instructor Jesse Mason. “The research we are doing at HFC is focused on better understanding the evolution of black holes.”

A sense of wonder

Preston’s interest in astrophysics began when he was working as a machinist.

“I worked the graveyard shift and would look up at the stars during my breaks, and I just got curious. I had this sense of wonder. I decided I wanted to study something pertaining to space. After looking into it, I decided on astrophysics because it explains how just about everything works,” recalled Preston.

Taking Mason’s astronomy class at HFC affirmed his decision.

“That class made me 100 percent sure that’s what I wanted to do,” said Preston. “Even though it would be hard and I would have to put in a lot of work, I know this is what I’m interested in studying. It’s my calling. Jesse Mason has been a great mentor.”

A trailblazing student researcher

Mason was impressed by Preston’s accomplishments in such a short period of time.

"In less than a year, Anthony has transformed from astronomy student to trailblazing student researcher, navigating the complexities of extragalactic x-ray data using esoteric astronomy software in an effort to map previously uncharted territories of black hole evolution,” said Mason. “Anthony's commitment to sharing knowledge -- reflected not only in his recent presentation at the Compact Objects conference but also in a research training manual he has written for his fellow HFC student researchers -- illustrates that scientific progress is not just about discovery, but also about fostering the next generation of scientists."

Mason who sponsored Preston’s application to the Honors Program. This summer, Preston is working with Mason as a student researcher.

“It’s a blast conducting research that I’m so invested in. Sometimes, I’ll have a hard time balancing work and classes. It’s hard to focus sometimes when I’m doing some super cool research into black holes,” admitted Preston.

His time at HFC is preparing him for his future in surprising ways.

“I can definitely say, no matter what happens with my career, my experience here at HFC has been invaluable,” said Preston. “I’ve met some great people and done some things I’ve never thought I’d do.”