13 June 2012
Astronomy senior Renata Violante is this year's winner of the Karl G. Henize Endowed Scholarship. The Karl G. Henize Endowed Scholarship is awarded annually to a junior or senior student who intends to pursue a graduate degree in Astronomy. Renata intends to pursue a graduate degree in Astronomy after she finishes her B.S. in Astronomy and Physics here at UT Austin in December.
Renata is also this year's recepient of the 2012 Board of Visitor Undergraduate Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a junior or senior astronomy student for excellent overall performance.
Renata has worked with Dr. Sneden to derive new, extremely accurate abundances of the very heavy elements yttrium and zirconium (atomic numbers 39 and 40). These are critical elements in assessing the relative contributions of various neutron-capture nucleosynthesis scenarios. To accomplish this study, Renata had to learn an entire suite of spectroscopic analysis tools from scratch, grapple with handling raw data with a critical eye and understand how stellar line formation equations can be applied practically. This is a slow process, but Renata has done very well. The proof of this statement is simple: January's American Astronomical Society meeting included a poster by R. Violante et al. titled, ``Improved Yttrium and Zirconium Abundances in Metal-Poor Stars'', (2012, AAS Meeting Abstracts, 219, \#152.04).
In addition to her research, Dr. Sneden notes that Renata has shown her keenness for astronomy in other ways, like attending a Space Camp in high school and assisting at McDonald Observatory. She was also lead organizer for a group of undergraduates who helped our department interview candidates for a new faculty slot in the program. Renata is currently attending an REU at Kitt Peak to broaden her knowledge of astronomy/physics research.