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The Middlebury undergrads who presented their research at the symposium were (l. to r.) Diego Garcia ’20, Diego Espino ’19, Sadie Coffin ’19, and Karla Núñez ’19.

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Student Astronomers Present Research at KNAC Symposium

October 3, 2018

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Four Middlebury students presented findings from their research, along with undergraduates from seven other colleges and universities, at the 2018 Symposium of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC). Hosted by Middlebury College on September 28–29, the symposium was attended by more than 140 participants.

The consortium was founded in 1990 with funds from the W. M. Keck Foundation, and its eight member institutions are Colgate University, Haverford College, Middlebury College, Swarthmore College, Vassar College, Wellesley College, Wesleyan University, and Williams College.

Currently funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under its Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, the KNAC promotes student astronomical research and fosters interaction among students, faculty, and staff across the eight campuses.

During the two-day symposium, there were 16 talks given by 21 students and 15 posters presented by 18 students.

Karla Núñez ’19 gave a talk based on the research she performed the past two summers at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum titled “Do Chaos, Domes, Pits, and Spots Contribute to Changing Morphology of Europa’s Ridges?” Núñez determined that transitioning and nontransitioning ridges occurred in areas of Jupiter’s smallest Galilean moon that contained the fewest number of chaos, pits, spots, and domes. Her findings imply that these small features have no effect on the morphology of Europa’s ridges.

Diego Garcia ’20 presented a talk titled “Determining the Evolutionary Status of the Disk Surrounding HD 166191” based on research performed at Wesleyan University last summer and funded by KNAC’s NSF-REU program. Garcia’s work advanced astronomy’s understanding of the rate of planetary formation occurring in the star system, as well as the ambiguity in classification that surrounds young stars.

Sadie Coffin ’19 and Swarthmore junior Karina Cooper presented a group talk titled “Identifying Intrinsic X-ray Source Population Groupings in External Galaxies: Astronomical Uses for Machine Learning.” Coffin and Cooper worked with a catalog of X-ray emitting sources observed by the space-based Chandra X-ray Observatory and used machine learning to probe the intrinsic structure and groupings within their data. Their findings were based upon their research performed at Wesleyan University last summer, which was funded by KNAC’s NSF-REU program.

Diego Espino ’19 presented the poster “Additional Comparisons of the Seismic Properties of the Sun During Solar Cycles 23 and 24” based upon his research last summer at the University of Southern California. Espino and his collaborators characterized solar activity by studying the sun’s three modes of intensity oscillation and sunspot coverage.

One of Diego Espino's illustrations of sunspot coverage vs. solar latitude demonstrating that sunspots shift closer to the solar equator as the solar cycle reaches a minimum. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Participants at the symposium arrived on Friday afternoon and attended a reception, banquet, and discussion at the Bread Loaf mountain campus in Ripton, Vt. On Saturday, there was a full schedule of events at McCardell Bicentennial Hall on Middlebury’s main campus.

In addition to the students’ posters and presentations, the president-elect of the International Astronomical Union, Professor Debbie Elmegreen of Vassar, delivered the welcome address; Middlebury Professor of Geology and Director of the Sciences Pat Manley gave opening remarks; and Middlebury’s P. Frank Winkler Fellow in Physics, Assistant Professor Eilat Glikman, closed the symposium with final comments.  

“The symposium is a stimulating environment for all students of astronomy," said Jonathan Kemp, one of the symposium’s organizers and Middlebury’s telescope and scientific computing specialist. “Some of the students had presented their research before, while for others it was their first opportunity to share their research with fellow students and faculty. The symposium provides inspiration to pursue research opportunities and a venue to meet faculty, make connections, and gain knowledge about subfields and career paths as well as issues of importance to young astronomers.”

The packed schedule of events also included four breakout sessions with KNAC faculty members on topics ranging from applying to graduate school to Bayesian statistics, and from equity and inclusion in astronomy to methods of communicating science.

The next KNAC Symposium will be held on October 11–12, 2019, at Vassar College.

 

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