BoV Support Helps Student Award Winners
Top graduate and undergraduate students in The University of Texas at Austin Department of Astronomy have won coveted Board of Visitors-funded awards for 2011 in recognition of outstanding academic work in a variety of areas. The prizes will support costs for tuition, books, travel, instrumentation, and other educational expenses.
GRADUATE STUDENT AWARDS
Jeremy Murphy will receive the David Alan Benfield Memorial Scholarship given in recognition for outstanding service to the department or outstanding teaching service. Jeremy describes how the scholarship will help his research:
"I am currently involved with three research projects. The first project is supervised by Gary J. Hill and is directed towards understanding various aspects of the fiber optics to be used for the VIRUS instrument and HETDEX. Most recently, this work has focused on the long-term behavior of the fibers and how their properties change while in motion on the HET. The second research project is advised by Karl Gebhardt and involves quantifying dark matter halos around local, massive elliptical galaxies. The aim here is to better understand the formation history and evolution of these systems. The Benfield award I received this Fall will partialy fund some travel this Fall to further the third research project being carried out with Genevieve Graves, a collaborator at UC Berkeley. We are using spectra taken with the VIRUS-P instrument to measure the chemical abundances of the stars in elliptical galaxies."
Erik Brugamyer has been awarded a Named/Endowed Graduate School Fellowship (the name of the fellowship has yet to be determined). This award is offered to only the very strongest of the Continuing Fellowship nominees at the University of Texas.
Chalence Safranek-Shrader has been awarded the Fred T. Goetting, Jr. Memorial Endowed Presidential Scholarship given in recognition of excellence in research work.
Paul Robertson will receive the Frank Edmonds Jr. Memorial Fellowship in Astronomy. This fellowship is given to support outstanding research.
Taylor Chonis is the recipient of this year's Board of Visitor's Graduate Student Second Year Defense Award. Taylor received a unanimous "high pass" across every category of the qualifying exam evaluation by his committee members. Chonis says: "My research interests are astronomical instrumentation and extra-galactic astrophysics. Namely, I am working to help develop and build VIRUS and LRS2, both of which are new spectrographs for the upgraded HET. My scientific research is studying the physical nature of Lyman-alpha Emitting galaxies in the HETDEX survey. As a side project, I study stellar tidal streams around Local Volume galaxies resulting from minor mergers." He plans to use the scholarship money to upgrade a CCD camera on his personal telescope set-up that he uses on the side project on stellar tidal streams metioned above.
George Miller (B.S. Astronomy Honors/Plan II Honors) is the winner of a 2011 Board of Visitors Scholarship. has been working continually on research projects with Drs. Don Winget and Mike Montgomery since he joined their Freshman Research Initiative group in Spring 2009. In spring 2010, he made the transition to mentor for the FRI stream, a position he continues to hold. He led participation in a new series of observations on NN Serpentis, a close binary star with circumbinary planets. The long-period planets discovered in these observations were the first of their kind, dynamically similar to outer planets in our solar system; they demonstrated that the process of planet formation is far more forgiving than previously realized. This work resulted in a worldwide press release, featuring George's contribution
"University of Texas Students, Telescopes Help Discover Planets Around Elderly Binary Star".
As a result of this and other work, he is already a co-author on two refereed publications.
George has also been instrumental in developing a data reduction pipeline for observations made on the 36-inch telescope at McDonald Observatory and the MONET telescope. He used these pipelines for the eclipse timing measurements as well as for additional observations we have subsequently made.
In addition to working with other students and faculty, George worked with High School teacher groups to teach them how to use the telescope for science projects with K-12 students.
Jennifer Ellis (B.S. AST Honors/PHY Honors) has also been a part of the FRI stream with Drs. Winget and Montgomery. As part of a planet search project, she used white dwarf stars with pulsation modes that are stable over many years. Her statistical analysis showed that the planetary companion model fit the data much better than the null hypothesis (i.e., no planet) in a significant way. Her analysis was convincing enough that it has led to plans to perform complementary observations to detect a planet in this system.
After her first year, Ellis embarked on a new research project as part of a collaboration between the Winget/Montgomery group and Sandia National Labs (SNL) in Albuquerque. In Summer 2010 she was an intern there and helped set up the diagnostics for the pulsed-power shots. She has decided to continue this work and make it the subject of her senior thesis in both Astronomy and Physics.
Krista Smith (B.S. Astronomy) won the 2011 Outstanding Senior Award began her research with Dr. Greg Shields on quasars in January 2008. The project was to search for binary quasars using a particular signature in the emission-line spectrum. She visually inspected 25,000 quasar spectra and identified 150 candidates. This work is described in a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal in June 2010 (Smith et al., ApJ. 716:866). Krista shared the writing equally with Dr. Shields and was deservedly first author on this paper. The paper has already had impact, with many citations in the refereed literature, and several groups have been conducting studies of Krista's objects. Krista has presented reports on this work at three meetings of the American Astronomical Society. She is also co-author of two other published papers and one submitted paper and is showing great independence in writing another first-author paper describing follow-up analysis for her project. Highly exceptional is the fact that she has given scientific seminars at UCSC, UC Berkeley, and Rice University.
Last year Krista worked on a project to teach "Phases of the Moon" by interacting with models in Second Life, an on-line virtual world. She was first author on a paper at the UT System Undergraduate Symposium in Second Life. She is continuing that project as well as assisting Dr. Mary Kay Hemenway with finding materials and activities for a workshop that will be offered in June 2011 for UTeach students and alumni. She has tried out many activities produced by NASA to assist Dr. Hemenway in selecting which ones will be most valuable for the participants.
Krista has been honored with a number of awards during her UT career, including several in the Astronomy Department and College of Natural Sciences and a highly competitive George Mitchell Award for Academic Excellence (April 2010). Her outreach activities include a number of popular astronomy talks for civic groups and elementary school classes.
She graduated with her B.S. in December 2010, but continues to work in our department. She is currently involved in a project on the stability of planetary orbits.
Caroline Caldwell (B.S. AST) is one of two winners of the 2011 Karl G. Henize Endowed Scholarship. Ms. Caldwell worked with Dr. Beverly Wills on a research project involving the presentation of light curves of the position angle of optical polarization, for a sample of about 20 blazars, largely from McDonald Observatory data. The project involved looking at changes over a 20-30 year time span, and comparing these with variations in the radio position angle (frequencies of 8 to 15 GHz), as well as the more-or-less constant direction of the parsec-scale radio jet.
Ms. Caldwell gave a presentation in the department's Extragalactic seminar and presented two posters -- one at the Undergraduate Poster Session on campus in 2010 and another at the January 2011 AAS meeting. She has recently started working with Dr. Mike Endl on a research project involving exoplanets analogous to our Jupiter (with orbital periods exceeding a decade).
Ms. Caldwell also did an internship at the visitors center at McDonald Observatory in the summer of 2010. As a member of the Astronomy Student Association, she has been involved in public outreach for our department by participating in such events as CNS Family Day and Explore UT.
Michelle Rascati (B.S. AST/PHY) also won a Karl G. Henize Endowed Scholarship. Ms. Rascati has been working with Drs. Neal Evans and Joel Green on a research project to investigate the chemistry and diversity of young stars and protoplanetary systems. She has written much of her own analysis software to understand the statistics of the samples generated. She is a skilled programmer and quick learner, and is rapidly learning scientific writing. She participated in a paper Dr. Green wrote and published in ApJ Letters, and will be involved in another for ApJ over the summer.