Richland Collegiate High School Student Tracks Asteroid and Conducts Astrophysics Research at University of Colorado

Abbas Zaki poses outside

Abbas Zaki

Richland Collegiate High School (RCHS) student Abbas Zaki recently spent 39 days operating a research-grade telescope, taking images of a near-earth asteroid and writing software to measure its position by precisely calculating its orbital path.

The asteroid, named 2003 LS3, was closely tracked, and based on data collected by Zaki and other students, they were able to determine that the asteroid will not collide with any of the planets in the solar system for the next four million years.

Zaki’s research was done as part of the 58th annual Summer Science Program (SSP) at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and he was one of only 36 gifted science students who came from around the world for this academic challenge, collaboration and personal growth. Together with his student colleagues, Zaki worked closely with university professors; met prominent guest speakers, such as an astronaut and a Nobel Prize physicist; and took behind-the-scenes tours of local scientific, educational and cultural sites, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Lockheed Martin. At Lockheed Martin, the students learned about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Gravity Recover and Interior Laboratory mission. The students also visited the control room of the ongoing Juno mission. The NASA space probe Juno was launched in 2010 and reached its destination of Jupiter on July 5.

“The part that I enjoyed most about the program was the opportunity to transcend my financial circumstances and to form friendships with, and learn alongside, brilliant students from all over the world who shared my ambition and desire for knowledge,” said Zaki. “I also thoroughly enjoyed being able to interact with the guest speakers, who were among the best in their fields, and to learn about some of the work they had done.”

Zaki was able to attend SSP through financial support from QuestBridge, a scholarship program that provides high achieving, low-income students with tools necessary to attend some of the best universities in the nation.

“Abbas truly understands the meaning of hard work,” said Richland Collegiate High School Principal Craig Hinkle. “RCHS students enroll in our program to set themselves apart, not just in earned college credits, but in their willingness to reach out beyond expectations. Abbas has quite literally done that. I can’t wait to hear where he lands next!”

The SSP is an independent nonprofit operated in cooperation with the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Since 1959, this highly selective program has offered gifted teens the opportunity to conduct research in a professional setting. Many SSP alumni go on to earn advanced degrees and obtain leadership roles in their chosen careers.

Richland Collegiate High School provides a rigorous academic experience for high school juniors and seniors. Students can complete their last two years of high school at Richland College by taking college courses and earning college credits with a focus on mathematics, science and engineering.

For more information on SSP, visit For information on RCHS, visit