The solar system drew in Anna Aaronsen of Petaluma when she was 8 years old.
"I loved to read fantasy books so I was amazed to find that there was something equally amazing beyond our world," she said.
That seed of fascination has developed into a passion for theoretical physics and astronomy.
Now Aaronson, 15, is pursuing those interests at Sonoma State University, where she is monitoring gamma rays under the guidance of physics professor Lynn Cominsky.
"I've gotten a taste of what it's like to be a scientist, for sure," said the Sonoma Academy junior.
She was assigned the project in a SSU summer internship program that connects some of Sonoma County's top students with faculty on university research projects.
"These are the best and brightest of Sonoma County high school students," said Lynn Stauffer, Dean of the SSU School of Science and Technology.
"These are not toy projects," Stauffer said. "This is all novel research. The things the students are working on haven't been done before and they are of publishable quality."
In a SSU laboratory this week, Kelly Jackson, 17, guided a visitor through a computerized map of a water quality measurement and monitoring system.
The Petaluma High School student knows it inside out; her finger races across the screen like a cursor. She designed it from scratch and it will be put into action this fall.