Undergraduate Program in the News

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2014 Astronomy Freshman Prize for Excellence Recipients

September 2014

james sullivan and patrick aleo

Patrick Aleo and James Sullivan

Two incoming students received an Astronomy Freshman Prize for Excellence this Fall. Winners were selected by the undergraduate advisor and UGSCOM chair based on applicant essays. Both of this year's recipients are coming from out of state.

Patrick Aleo (East Lyme, CT) is particularly interested in dark matter and dark energy. During his senior year of high school, he developed his own independent study course entitled “Mars Exploration” and presented the results of his research project to the science faculty. He also took advantage of his proximity to Yale University to attend lectures and shadow faculty in the astrophysics department.

James Sullivan (Alexandria, VA) did astrophysical work with Auroral Kilometric Radiation at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and achieved semifinalist status in the Siemens competition last year. In addition to his research pursuits, he is interested in teaching and public outreach.

Sae Saito Wins an Eva Stevenson Woods Endowed Presidential Scholarship

May 2014

sae saito

Sae Saito

Sae Saito was won an Eva Stevenson Woods Endowed Presidential Scholarship for 2014. Sae would like to become a research scientist in astrophysics, and is planning to attend graduate school after completing her B.S. at UT. She is primarily interested in cosmology and has been working with Paul Shapiro and Anson D'Aloisio in the Cosmic Dawn FRI stream. She served as a mentor to the new FRI students this semester, and over the summer she will continue her work with Dr. Shapiro as an undergraduate research assistant. The Unrestricted Endowed Presidential Scholarships (UEPS) are among the most prestigious awards the University has to offer. Out of 2500 students who met the initial qualifications, only 351 students were nominated for these awards.

Mark Moore and Amanda Turbyfill Inducted into Phi Beta Kappa

May 2014

mark moore and amanda turbyfill

Mark Moore and Amanda Turbyfill

Mark Moore and Amanda Turbyfill have been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. Founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary, Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest honor society in the United States. Its three Greek letters translate to "love of learning is the guide of life." Both Amanda and Mark will be graduating with honors May 2014.

Arina Rostopchina Wins Department of Astronomy Outstanding Senior Award

April 2014

arina rostopchina

Arina Rostopchina

Arina Rostopchina has been awarded this year's Department of Astronomy Outstanding Senior award. This award is given to a graduating senior for outstanding overall performance (grades, research, service to department and community). She has won a plethora of awards and honors during her career at UT, including the Eva Stevenson Woods Endowed Presidential Scholarship and the Kevin E. Underhill Memorial Endowed Presidential Scholarship, among others. The Department of Astronomy has awarded her a Henize Scholarship, a Board of Visitors scholarship, and the Ralph Cutler Greene scholarship. She will graduate with departmental honors this May.

Arina was a mentor in White Dwarf FRI stream with Drs. Winget and Montgomery, and has worked with a stellar evolution code, modeling WDs and studying their properties. Most recently, she has worked with Dr. Breger in the field of stellar seismology, taking responsibility for the analysis of one of the stars studied by Kepler. Using the tools developed at the Universities of Texas and Vienna, she has systematically reduced and analyzed the small light variations measured by the spacecraft. The precision of these data is two to three orders of magnitude higher than that obtained with telescopes on the Earth. She has discovered that the star pulsates in gravity and pressure modes and shows ‘weather’ patterns on the surface with similarities to those seen in the Earth’s atmosphere. The precision of the detected effects is unprecedented. Arina has already presented the initial results of her project at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, CA and has submitted results for publication in a leading astronomical journal. The paper is entitled ‘Relationship between low and high frequencies in the Delta Scuti star KIC 9764965.’

On many occasions, Arina has represented the Department and McDonald Observatory while serving as president of the Astronomy Student Association-- including Explore UT, Family Day, outreach activities in elementary schools, hosting public events in partnership with the Austin Astronomical Society, and giving prospective students department tours.

James Diekmann Wins Ralph Cutler Greene Scholarship

April 2014

James Diekmann is this year's recipient of the Ralph Cutler Greene scholarship. Excellent research performance, as well as service to the department, University and community are considered in this competition.

james diekmann

James Diekmann

James worked with Julie Comerford on characterizing the morphologies of the host galaxies of double-peaked active galactic nuclei (AGN), and submitted the results to Astrophysical Journal. Double-peaked AGN are an expected source of dual AGN, which are kiloparsec-scale separation AGN pairs that have been brought together by a galaxy merger. James’ work has shown that double-peaked AGN are more likely than the general AGN population to exist in galaxies with elliptical or merger morphologies. This finding supports the idea that many double-peaked AGN (and in fact a greater fraction than the general AGN population) are the products of galaxy mergers.

He has presented his research results in many venues, including three talks at the Texas Astronomy Undergraduate Research Symposia held on various college campuses across Texas. He has also presented his research in posters at UT’s Undergraduate Research Forum, the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation conference at UT Arlington, and two meetings of the AAS. He won the Oracle Award for Excellence in Astronomy Research for the poster he presented at UT’s Undergraduate Research Forum in April 2012.

The capstone to James’ career to date was winning a Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Award at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, CA, in January 2013. The competition was fierce, with over 200 undergraduate posters from across the country being judged. James won one of only 5 Chambliss awards that were given out to the over 200 undergraduates who entered the competition.

James has also had an over-sized presence in astronomy outreach and education. He created and served in the position of “public outreach coordinator” for UT Austin’s Astronomy Student Association, and he has given countless star parties and astronomy demonstrations for schools and other groups. He also led a group of his peers in creating an astronomy podcast, which features brief summaries of recent published papers and interviews with undergraduates doing research in astronomy.

Rebecca Larson Wins Karl G. Henize Award

April 2014

The Karl G. Henize Endowed Scholarship is awarded to a junior or senior who intends to pursue a graduate career in Astronomy. Rebecca Larson has been selected as this year's recipient.

rebecca larson

Rebecca Larson

Rebecca has worked with Neal Evans and Joel Green using Herschel Space Telescope spectroscopy to hunt for predicted signatures of the dissipation of turbulence, introduced into interstellar clouds, by shocks from nearby, newly forming stars. The dissipated energy is thought to be spin in CO molecules.

Rebecca stood out in the Research Methods class through her early research presentation, which encouraged many of her classmates with no prior experience to get involved in research. This spring and summer, she is working with Shardha Jogee on galaxy evolution in the SHELA/HETDEX field using Herschel and DECAM ugriz data. This project will explore the evolution of massive galaxies as a function of environment over a gigantic comoving volume at the epoch of peak star formation history.

Amanda Turbyfill wins Best Poster Award at Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP)

February 2014

Amanda Turbyfill won the Best Poster Award at the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) held at Louisiana State University in January, presenting the latest research in her work with Professor Dinerstein. The poster, "Investigating Possible Departures from Maxwellian Energy Distributions in Nebulae using High-Resolution Emission-Line Spectra", explains the motivation and method for testing a recently hypothesized solution to an old problem -- inconsistent nebular abundances. Amanda will be continuing the project with Dr. Dinerstein as her senior thesis and hopes to publish their final conclusions.

amanda turbyfill

Amanda Turbyfill