Michele Dufault, a former senior physics and astronomy student in Saybrook College, passed away last April as the result of a tragic accident in a student machine shop. Thanks to members of the Yale faculty and student body who knew her best, an asteroid was named in Dufault’s honor.
The asteroid, formerly known as Asteroid 15338, will now be known as 15338 Dufault. The asteroid made its debut in the July edition of “Minor Planetary Circulars,” the official publication for minor bodies in the solar system. The description of 15338 Dufault includes a citation written by one of Dufault’s research advisors and Chair of the Yale Physics Department, Meg Urry.
This citation reads: “Named in honor of Michele Dufault (1988-2011), an outstanding astronomy and physics student at Yale College who died in an accident just weeks before graduation. Michele was passionate about science and about encouraging others, especially young women, to pursue science careers.”
Discovered at Kitt Peak in Arizona in 1994, the asteroid lies between Mars and Jupiter in an asteroid belt circling the Sun. It is between three to six miles wide and makes a full rotation around the Sun approximately every five years.
The faculty and students responsible for naming the asteroid are now hoping to continue Dufault’s legacy by raising money for a summer research fellowship and a conference for undergraduate women in science. These projects to commemorate Dufault’s passion for research and women involvement in the sciences are in addition to a Yale scholarship that has been established in her honor.