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Bryan Changala: Opening for Undergraduate Majors in the Following Fields: Chemistry, Physics, Astrochemistry, and Engineering

Advisor: Bryan Changala

Department: Atomic and Molecular Physics Division

Background:

I am a postdoctoral fellow in the McCarthy group at the SAO. My research is focused on using high precision experimental and computational spectroscopy to better understand the quantum structure, dynamics, and chemistry of small molecules. I received my PhD in Physics in 2019 from JILA, University of Colorado, Boulder, and my S.B. in Chemistry and Physics in 2013 from MIT.

Project:

Multiple research opportunities are available in the McCarthy lab this summer that can be shaped to a student’s interest and the status of on-site vs. remote work at the SAO:

  1. Much of the chemistry of the interstellar medium occurs in cold, dense molecular clouds at temperatures of only a few degrees above absolute zero. The direct experimental characterization of chemical reactions at such temperatures is far from complete. Using chirped-pulse broadband Fourier transform microwave (FTMW) spectroscopy, we will measure the chemical kinetics of low-temperature (ca. 10 K) reactions in a cryogenic buffer-gas-cooled reaction cell. Our focus will be on rapid, barrierless neutral-radical reactions. The quantitative determination of temperature-dependent reaction rate constants will provide detailed insights into unusual low-temperature reaction mechanisms and critical input to improving astrochemical models.

  2. The development and application of direct laser-cooling to molecules has established new possibilities in molecular physics and ultracold chemistry. Laser-coolable molecules typically contain a single metal-atom that can scatter photons repeatedly through cycles of electronic excitation and decay. Hypermetallic molecules containing multiple metal-atoms thus have the potential to increase the efficiency and versatility of cold molecule applications. Using broadband and cavity-enhanced FTMW spectroscopy, we will explore several aspects of the chemistry and spectroscopy of these exotic species, including in situ synthesis via laser-ablation and the chemical design principles that affect the electronic coupling of unpaired electrons centered on multiple metal atoms.

Requirements:

  • A background in chemistry or physics
  • Basic knowledge of laboratory safety

Learning Elements:

  • Numerical data analysis, scientific programming, and quantum chemistry
  • Microwave spectroscopy, radio frequency electronics, and vacuum technology

• Statistical analyses of samples, statistical tests
• Writing a report that could evolve into a scientific paper

 

Robert Hargreave: Opening for Undergraduate Majors in the Following Fields: Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Environmental Science, Engineering, Math

Advisor: Robert Hargreaves

Department: Atomic and Molecular Physics Division

Background:

My current research involves the identification, validation and analysis of spectroscopic data for inclusion into the HITRAN and HITEMP databases (www.hitran.org). These databases provide frequencies and intensities (and more) for millions of transitions throughout the electromagnetic spectrum for many important molecular species. HITRAN and HITEMP are considered international reference standards for spectroscopic parameters, therefore one key aspect of this work is to determine and provide the most accurate spectroscopic data that is currently available. Both databases are used in many diverse scientific fields. In astronomy and atmospheric science, the HITRAN and HITEMP databases are crucial in understanding the composition of planetary atmospheres.

Project: Hot topic: Spectroscopic parameters for high temperature environments

The project will include the comparison, validation and analysis of spectroscopic data for HITEMP. As part of this work, the student will become familiar with the modelling of laboratory spectra of high temperature environments using Python and the HITRAN Application Programming Interface (HAPI). This work will typically involve comparisons of a variety of spectroscopic data to determine the most accurate when compared to laboratory measurements.

Requirements:

  • The student should be familiar with concepts of basic computer programming (familiarity with Python would be beneficial)
  • A background in physics or physical chemistry is required
  • An understanding of spectroscopy is desirable

Learning Elements:

The student will learn about the absorption and emission of radiation in molecules; how important this information is for identifying molecular signatures in spectra; and the importance of reliable and accurate spectroscopic databases for scientific research. In addition, they will also experience working with large amounts of data; scientific programming required for data analysis; and key analysis techniques.

Eric Koch: Opening for Undergraduate Majors in the Following Fields: Physics, Astronomy, Statistics, Computer Science, Engineering, or any other Quantitative Discipline

Advisor: Eric Koch

Department: Radio and Geoastronomy Division

Background:

I am a Submillimeter Array (SMA) Postdoctoral Fellow at the CfA/SAO. Prior to arriving at the CfA, I finished my PhD at the University of Alberta in 2020. I study the interstellar medium (ISM) in our Milky Way and nearby galaxies to understand how galaxies form their stars. I primarily use radio telescopes in my research, with a focus on mapping our iconic neighboring galaxies, Andromeda and Triangulum. The questions I seek to answer in my research often require new analysis methods, and so I combine statistical and machine vision techniques to build new tools for myself and other astronomers to use.

Project:

The student will analyze new observations of the Local Group galaxies taken by the Very Large Array in New Mexico. These observations form a large, rich data set and the student can choose between a few different projects. Two options include investigating the atomic gas structure traced by the 21-cm HI spectral line, or identifying and exploring where OH (hydroxyl) masers are located. In the former project, the student will explore the structure of atomic gas in the Triangulum galaxy, gaining experience with machine vision algorithms and their use with radio astronomy data. The goal of this project is to explore how portions of the atomic gas form into molecular clouds, which in turn is where new stars will form. In the other project, the student will identify the first detections of OH masers in Triangulum. Masers are the microwave analog to lasers and, just like a laser, produce extremely bright emission from a small region. These OH masers originate from the atmospheres of red-giant stars and the gas surrounding recently formed massive stars. The student will use source detection algorithms to locate masers and identify the type of source producing the maser. The goal of this project is to produce the first catalog of OH masers in Triangulum (and potentially other nearby galaxies) and compare their properties to those we detect in our own Milky Way galaxy.

Requirements:

  • Familiarity with Unix/Linux systems and terminal operations.
  • Basic programming skills are strongly encouraged, especially Python.
  • Some physics/astronomy/statistics would be helpful but is not required.

Learning Elements:

Both projects will emphasize learning the process of scientific research, including the analysis and interpretation of results, making scientific visualizations, writing the key findings into a short paper/summary, and presenting the findings to other scientists. The student will join and attend meetings in an active collaboration of star formation and ISM experts. In addition, the student will learn about star formation and the interstellar medium, radio astronomy, and basic Python programming and statistical analysis.

Feng Long: Opening for Undergraduate Majors in the Following Fields: Astronomy, Physics, Computer Science, Engineering, and Math

Advisor: Feng Long

Department: Radio and Geoastronomy Division

Background:

I am a Submillimeter Array (SMA) Fellow at SAO. My scientific research focuses on planet formation in circumstellar disks (also called protoplanetary disks). The main goal is to understand how disk materials evolve into the diverse planetary architecture, with most detected planetary systems unlike our own Solar System. In my research, I mainly use observations at millimeter wavelengths to explore the structure and dynamics of disks around young stars in nearby star-forming regions.

Project:

Planets form in disks that orbit around young stars. This process starts with solids that grow from small micron-sized particles typical for the interstellar medium into millimeter/centimeter-sized pebbles, that are directly traceable using (sub-) millimeter observations. Recent high-spatial resolution observations show that millimeter emission in disks is often confined into concentric rings that naturally overcome the drift barrier caused by the dynamical drag between the dust grains and disk gas content. These high density dust rings then become the potential sites for planet formation. We will study the properties of dust rings to explore the initial conditions of planet formation. The project will include reducing and analyzing millimeter wavelength data from the SMA and/or ALMA to derive physical properties (e.g., dust distribution, maximum grain sizes) for these dust rings for one case study or statistical analysis for a large sample.

Requirements:

  • Basic programming skills are necessary. Experience with Python would be beneficial.
  • Basic familiarity of Unix/Linux systems and terminal operations are required.
  • A background on physics and Calculus would be beneficial. Entry-level courses on astronomy and/or statistics would be an advantage.

Learning Elements:

The student will learn about the physical process of star and planet formation, interferometer data reduction and image analysis, Python programming, and basic statistical analysis. He/She will also experience the whole process of scientific research, including interpreting results, making figures, writing a research summary and giving presentations.

Richard Teague: Opening for Undergraduate Majors in the Following Fields: Astronomy, Math, Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering

Advisor: Richard Teague

Department: Radio and Geoastronomuy Division

Background:

I am a Submillimeter Array (SMA) Fellow at SAO. My research revolves around understanding the planet formation process, and the planet formation environment, the protoplanetary disk. I work primarily with sub-mm observations from the SMA in Hawaii and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in the Atacama Desert in Chile. My particular interests include using high spectral resolution observations of molecular line emission to understand the chemical complexity of planet forming materials, and to map out the velocity structure of the disk such that we trace the delivery of these materials to sites of on-going planet formation.

Project:

I will be offering two projects. One is an observationally driven project using data from the SMA of a massive, potentially self-gravitating accretion disk. The observations were designed to map out the chemical complexity of the gas within this disk. The student will image this data, then create scripts to extract spectra and place limits on the relative abundances of different key molecular species, with a focus on those found in Solar System bodies, such as comets. The second project is more theoretical, and aims to develop new techniques to place limits on the magnetic field structure present at the birth of planets. The student will use models of high spectral resolution CN emission to understand the limits of how strong a primordial magnetic field can be detected using a novel ‘shift-and-stack’ technique which is frequently used to measure extremely precise velocity structures of disks. For excellent students, this can be extended to include application to real data.

Requirements:

  • Basic familiarity with command line systems (e.g., Unix/Linux) and basic terminal operations.
  • Experience with Python, particularly the numpy and scipy packages, is necessary.
  • If working with SMA data reduction is desired (not necessary), a basic knowledge of IDL is required.
  • Calculus is required, and some background in probability and statistic would be preferred.

Learning Elements:

Students will learn about the planet formation process, with a focus on the current problems in this field. This will involve literature studies, so students will become familiar with searching for and reading scientific articles. For both projects, the students will learn how to manipulate data, and perform statistical tests on this data, all the while improving their scientific programming. Depending on the interest from the student and their ability, the project can focus more on calibrating and imaging sub-mm data.

Caroline Nowlan and Gonzalo Gonzalez: Abad Satellite, Airborne and Ground-Based Remote Sensing of Air Quality

Advisor: Caroline Nowlan

and Gonzalo González Abad

Department: Atomic and Molecular Physics Division

Opening for Undergraduate Majors in the Following Fields:

Physics, Environmental Science, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering, Math


Background:

Our research group studies the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, with a focus on air quality. In particular, we use observations from satellites to make global measurements of pollution. These observations allow us to examine emission sources and pollution transport, and the trends in pollution over time.

Project:

Possible projects include looking at pollution trends over different parts of the Earth, analyzing ground-based measurements of pollution from our Cambridge site and comparing them with satellite observations, or comparing measurements from aircraft over cities with results from chemical models of the atmosphere, among others.

Requirements:

 · Intro-level courses in physics and calculus

 ·  Students should be familiar with the concepts of basic computer programming (using Matlab, Python   or similar), either from a computer programming course,  the use of  computer programming in science courses, or from self-study


Learning Elements:

• Adept at handling large amounts of data

• Basic statistics

• Computer programming required for data analysis and different methods of data

 

Jessie Porterfield: The Chemistry of Titan's Atmosphere by High Resolution Microwave Spectroscopy

Advisor: Jessie Porterfield

Department: Radio and Geoastronomy Division

Opening for Undergraduate Majors in the Following Fields:

Chemistry, Astrochemistry, Physics, and Engineering


Background:

I am a postdoctoral fellow at SAO, and my research focuses on laboratory studies of gas-phase chemical reactions that take place in the atmosphere (of Earth, for now). My current aim is to better understand the sets of chemical reactions that lead to aerosol formation in our atmosphere, since aerosols can impact surface radiation and air quality. I received my PhD in Physical Chemistry from Colorado at Boulder, and prior to that studied Chemistry and Math at the University of Oklahoma.


Project:

The Cassini spacecraft was launched in 1997 to study Saturn, its rings and natural satellites, over a 20 year period before it dove through the rings of Saturn on its final mission. It provided many remarkable findings, one of which was astounding images of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, which appears to have a hazy blue atmosphere. Data from Cassini revealed that this atmosphere is composed primarily of nitrogen (95%) and methane (5%), however little is known about the chemical complexity that leads to this blue haze. In the McCarthy group, we do laboratory based studies that support astronomical observations using high resolution microwave (rotational) spectroscopy. Exotic and highly reactive species, such as radicals and cations, are created by pulsing gas mixtures through a static discharge (lightning strike) into a vacuum chamber, where we can identify in the lab what is often observed in the interstellar medium. Using this experimental setup, the project would involve discharge chemistry of methane and nitrogen in an attempt to better understand the complex chemistry of Titan’s atmosphere. Our experimental findings could then be compared to that collected by the Cassini spacecraft.


Requirements:

• A background in chemistry

• Basic knowledge of laboratory safety

• An interest in quantum chemistry for data analysis


Learning Elements:

• Data analysis, with an introduction to Jupyter Notebook and Python

• Microwave spectroscopy and vacuum technology

• Radical and ion chemistry

 

Scott Randall: The Physics of Clusters of Galaxies and the Growth of Large Scale Structure

Advisor: Scott W. Randall
Department: High Energy Astrophysics Division

Opening for Undergraduate Majors in the Following Fields:

Astronomy, Physics, Computer Science, Engineering, and Math
Background:
I am a staff scientist at SAO and a member of the Science Operations Mission Planning Team for NASA's Chandra X-ray satellite.  My research focuses on various aspects of clusters of galaxies and theirrelationship to the large scale structure of the cosmic web, largely using X-ray observations of the hot intracluster medium (ICM).

Project:
As the largest gravitationally bound systems in the Universe, clusters of galaxies are unique markers that can be used to study large scale structure and cosmology.  It is therefore important to understand the formation and evolution of, and the physical processes at play in, clusters.  Due to their large masses and deep gravitational potential wells, in falling cosmic gas is shock-heated and compressed until it reaches temperatures of more than 10^7 K.  This gas shines brightly in the X-ray waveband, largely via thermal bremsstrahlung emission.  Therefore, X-ray observations offer a unique window for the study of galaxy clusters.  

There are several potential research projects based on the study of galaxy clusters.  These include mapping the gas density and thermal structure of the ICM of individual clusters using X-ray observations to learn about their dynamical state; correlating X-ray observations with observations of diffuse radio emission to study the formation mechanisms and physics of the radio structures; using X-ray observations to probe the outskirts of galaxy clusters, where the ICM connects to large scale structure filaments, to study cluster growth and how clusters connect to the cosmic web; performing mockobservations of numerical simulations to learn about cluster growth and determine what can be learned about clusters with current and upcoming observatories; analyzing millimeter wavelength ALMA observations of the cores of individual clusters to map the distribution of cold molecular gas and learn about its relationship to the central supermassive black hole; analyzing optical weak lensing observations to map the total mass (dominated by dark matter) distribution of individual clusters; and analyzing multi-fiber optical spectroscopic observations of individual clusters to learn about their galactic dynamics.


Requirements:
•A working understanding of the fundamentals of astronomy and astrophysics.
•Basic programming skills, experience with Linux.


Learning Elements:
•Scientific data analysis and statistical techniques, most likely in the context of X-ray imaging and spectroscopy.
•The use of astronomical software packages and other tools.
•Physical processes and astrophysical concepts related to galaxy clusters (plasma physics, gas physics, thermal and non-thermal emission, high-energy physics, large scale structure and cosmology).

Ian Stephens: Constraining the Formation of Stars via Observational Surveys

Advisor: Ian Stephens

Department: Radio and Geoastronomy Division

Opening for Undergraduate Majors in the Following Fields:

Physics, Astronomy, Computer Science, Engineering, or any other Quantitative Discipline


Background:

I started my undergraduate degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology with a concentration in Electrical Engineering. I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign to pursue a PhD in Astronomy. I received my PhD in 2013 and did a 3 year postdoc at Boston University. I am now a postdoctoral fellow at CfA/SAO. My research interests primarily focus on star formation. I use observational surveys to statistically constrain the evolution of star-forming systems.

Project:

The student will work on one of two surveys. The first survey is in the Perseus Molecular Cloud. We have just finished a high-resolution survey that maps molecular gas about 74 protostars that will eventually evolve into stars like our sun. The student will analyze how the protostellar envelope, i.e., gas that surrounds and falls into the newly forming stellar system, evolves through time. The second survey uses observations from the Mopra telescope in Australia to observe 3000 high-mass star-forming regions (i.e., regions that will form a star that is >8 times the mass of our sun). The student will analyze a variety of spectral lines to see how the chemistry evolves in the cloud through time.

Requirements:

• Excel or Python (Python strongly preferred).
• Some knowledge or interest in star formation is helpful.

Learning Elements:

• The student will learn about the star formation process.

• He/she will also learn the scientific process in academia. Specifically, he/she will use data to get results, interpret results, make figures, and write a short paper/summary of the results. My recent UMass Lowell student presented his poster at the 229th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Sandro Tacchella: Variability of Star Formation in Galaxies

Advisor: Sandro Tacchella

Department: Optical and Infrared Astronomy Division

Opening for Undergraduate Majors in the Following Fields:

Astronomy, Computer Science, Physics, Engineering, and Math


Background:

I am an independent postdoc at the Center for Astrophysics (CfA Fellow). I have received my Ph.D. from ETH Zurich in Switzerland in 2017. My research focuses on the formation and evolution of galaxies across cosmic time. I’m using the largest telescopes in the world and detailed numerical simulations to understand how galaxies form their stars.


Project:

Today’s universe is full of different kinds of galaxies: some galaxies are small, some are large, some form stars, some do not. We still do not understand why galaxies are so diverse. The reason for this is because a large number of different physical mechanism form and shape galaxies. In this project, the student will analyze a state-of-the-art cosmological simulation to understand how different physical mechanisms affect galaxies. Specifically, the student will make predictions on the time-variability of star-formation histories of galaxies, which can be tested in the future.This project can be adjusted depending on the skills and interest of the student.


Requirements:

• Basic knowledge of Unix or OS X systems.

• Basic knowledge of programming (for example Python) would be helpful.

• Ambitious student will be able to write a publishable paper on his or her results.


Learning Elements:

Student will learn about the art of doing research, including working with scientific literature, basic statistical analysis, Python programming, and handling of large datasets. Student will obtain an overview of recent research in the field of galaxy formation and evolution.

 

Guillermo Torres: Discovering and Characterizing Binary Stars Observed by the Hipparcos Satellite

Advisor: Guillermo Torres

Department: Solar, Stellar, and Planetary Sciences Division

Opening for Undergraduate Majors in the Following Fields:

Astronomy or Physics Major


Background:

I have been at SAO for more than 25 years. My research interests include studies of binary and multiple star systems (eclipsing, spectroscopic, astrometric) with an emphasis on determining accurate properties of the stars to test models of stellar structure and evolution. I have also been involved in radial-velocity studies of variable stars, and more recently in the discovery, confirmation, and characterization of transiting extrasolar planets. I am a co-investigator for NASA's TESS mission, which was launched in 2018 to look for transiting planets around bright nearby stars.


Project:

The project consists in discovering new binary systems in a large sample of stars observed by the Hipparcos satellite, and determining the elements of their spectroscopic orbits, when possible. The study will use observations already in hand for all objects, consisting of multiple high-resolution spectra of each star taken over a period of several years. The analysis will begin with a determination of the physical properties of each star including their effective temperature and rotational velocity, followed by the measurement of the radial velocity at each epoch using existing software tools. Objects showing radial velocities that change with time are indicative of the presence of a companion in orbit around the star. For those cases the goal will be to determine the orbital period, the eccentricity, and other orbital elements that provide important information on the masses of the stars. If there is time, deeper studies of individual cases of special interest may be carried out by incorporating additional observations of other kinds from the literature, or even light curves from NASA's TESS satellite, if they exist.

Requirements:

• Basic knowledge of UNIX, including the use of an editor, will be helpful for setting up
  scripts and input files needed for the project.

 • Basic knowledge of Astronomy and in particular stars would be highly beneficial.


Learning Elements:

The project will provide opportunities to learn about spectroscopy, radial velocity determinations, and stellar properties, and about binary stars, spectroscopic orbital solutions, data analysis, error analysis, and stellar astrophysics in general. In addition, the intern may learn how to search and use literature resources in Astronomy, as well as public databases containing observations of different kinds.