Find out how one Brazilian student followed his passion for space exploration all the way to Canada, where he discovered a universe of learning.
Leonardo Moutinho Caffarello arrived at UBC determined to gain the skills required to work in the field of space exploration. He was accepted to the Physics program, but wasn’t certain that what he was learning would help him achieve his dream – until second year, when he enrolled in PHYS 231. Taught by a gifted and passionate physicist, the course changed not only Leonardo’s perspective on space, but also the course of his studies and, ultimately, his career path too.
Why did you choose UBC?
During my gap year, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in the sciences – more specifically, space exploration. Brazil doesn’t have a well-developed space program, so I realized I would need a North American education if I wanted to follow my dream. Through my research, I came across UBC and was fascinated by the research opportunities available here, as well as the campus experience that UBC could provide.
How did you choose your campus and program?
After doing quite a bit of research on my own and speaking with high school professors back in my hometown in Brazil, I realized a smaller campus like UBC Okanagan would provide me with the close-knit academic experience I would need to get ahead in my studies.
You said you were uncertain about your program when you first arrived at UBC. When did you realize it was the right program for you?
It wasn’t until my second year, when I enrolled in PHYS 231 (Introduction to Electronics) with Jake Bobowski – who is hands down the best physics professor I’ve ever had! – that I realized I was studying to become a physicist. What I love about the program is learning to think like a physicist, a mindset that emphasizes open-mindedness. With this foundation, you can specify your studies in multiple fields of science while maintaining a deep foundation of the underlying rules that govern our universe in the biggest and smallest ways.
Did these realizations change your career goals?
It didn’t change my goal, but rather my perspective on how I could achieve it. My goal when I arrived at UBC was to work with space exploration. However, the more I studied, the more I realized there are many ways I could pursue this path. Currently, I’m considering a career in the fields of nuclear physics, particle physics, and quantum computers, but I would also still love to be part of a space program. What I understand now is that all of these fields could lead to my being part of a space program and help me reach my ultimate goal: helping humanity step foot on Mars.
Have you been involved in extracurricular activities?
The most significant extracurricular activity I’ve been involved with has been the Atmospheric Cloud Chamber of the Okanagan. A group of friends and I participated in the Canadian Stratospheric Balloon Experiment Design Challenge (CAN-SBX), organized by SEDS-Canada (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) in partnership with the Canadian Space Agency. We ended up winning the competition!
In late August 2019, we launched our own experiment into the stratosphere, up to 37 kilometres altitude, to detect cosmic ray interaction and sub-atomic decay across different altitudes of the atmosphere. We talked with engineers from the Canadian Space Agency and UBC professors in physics, math, and several engineering disciplines to be able to create our experiment and see it through. This experience has taught me what it really means to be a leader, how to find my role on a multidisciplinary project, how to manage responsibilities in a way I haven’t had to before, and a lot about physics and engineering of course.
“My university experience would not have been the same if I wasn’t active outside the classroom.”
How have your extracurricular activities added to your experience at UBC?
My university experience would not have been the same if I wasn’t active outside the classroom. It’s through my participation in these clubs and activities that I met my best friends, learned to think outside the box, and began to apply what I was learning in class to real-world situations.
When you’re not studying, what’s your favourite thing to do on campus?
I love to hang out with my friends in The Commons. The open space is really wonderful, and I am extremely comfortable just hanging out there.
What’s the best part about living in Kelowna?
Because Kelowna is a smaller town, it makes it easy to really focus on being in university and enjoying the university experience. At the same time, the natural environment here is so varied and gorgeous, and allows us to have outdoor experiences when we need a break from hitting the books.
Do you belong to any teams, groups, or clubs on campus?
I’ve been active with the Varsity Outdoor Club since I first arrived at UBC Okanagan. Through that group, I’ve participated in tons of hikes and camping trips, and got some of my best stories from first year!
During my second year, some friends and I founded a club for the growing Brazilian community on campus. We have organized several events to celebrate our culture and have integrated several other cultures into the mix, too.
Next year, I’ll be the new president of the Student Independent Research Club (SIRC), which has the objective of facilitating undergraduate students to propose, develop, and execute their own research. We hope to start work on a CubeSat project (a mini satellite) and support another project proposed by the community by the end of this academic year.
I’ve also been a member of the Aeroclub’s rocketry division since first year.
“If it weren’t for UBC, I would not have had the opportunity to try so many new and diverse activities, like guest lectures, clubs, and extracurricular projects.”
What would you say to prospective students who are considering attending UBC?
UBC’s motto, Tuum Est (“It’s yours” or “It’s up to you”), really summarizes the University. If you’re seeking more than what is given to you in class, UBC can offer you that. If you’re looking to become a researcher, an entrepreneur, or a changemaker, the people at UBC will always do their best to help you get there and will never set limits – it really is up to you. UBC has taught me independence, and the opportunities available to me have always inspired me to reach for new heights and to leave my mark on this planet in a positive way. If it weren’t for UBC, I would not have had the opportunity to try so many new and diverse activities, like guest lectures, clubs, and extracurricular projects.