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Pioneering student aims high

UNF student Lee Giat at MOSH

Everybody knows what clouds look like. Lee Giat knows what they feel like.


A couple of years ago, as he was piloting a small plane over the Everglades, Giat and his buddies opened the windows and reached out to touch a cloud. “Our hands got all wet,” the UNF junior said. “It was awesome!”


It’s one of the many remarkable milestones Giat has crammed into his 20 years.


He made his first movie when he was 7. He founded his production company when he was 14. And at 19, Giat created The STEM documentary web series, where he uses creative approaches to teach science.


More recently, he won Xploration Outer Space’s Student Astronaut competition, with the prize being cosmonaut training in Russia. He finished second last year, when the prize was Mars training in Hawaii.


Giat created a fast-paced video with slick effects like holograms, interspersed with on-location shoots, as he explained how winning would help his career as a science communicator. He even spoke a little Russian at the end.


There were obstacles to overcome while filming. The contest coincided with exams and Giat being very sick. He had to dub over a lot of the video once he got better. But, Giat said, “I’m glad I finished it, because it ended up being one of my best videos.”


His visit to the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center was almost a disaster. Giat’s excitement over being there, coupled with too much coffee, caused his blood pressure to rise so much that he failed his medical exam three times. But ultimately, he slowed his heart rate through breathing exercises and was able to experience the G-forces of a rocket launch and the sensation of floating in space.


He also got to wear a Sokol space suit for his flight training, where he learned to dock the Soyuz spacecraft with the International Space Station. “There’s a lot to learn when you have to pilot a spaceship,” he said. “That’s why astronauts are carefully selected.”


Giat credits faculty and staff across UNF for helping him pursue his dreams. And considering his enthusiasm for sharing the wonders of science with the rest of the world, it is not at all surprising that he is majoring in both physics and communication. Giat would like to be an astronaut, but realizes that only .08 percent of applicants get into the program. If he doesn’t make it, he has other dreams, including directing the first major motion picture in space.


After all, once you’ve touched a cloud, you want to keep going higher.