Among the paintings and art installations in Little Hall, astronomy students talked dark matter, exoplanets, eclipses, and star systems on Oct. 21. At the annual research symposium of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium, hosted by Colgate, students from eight liberal arts universities gathered to present their summer research findings.
Megan Emch ’18 and Alina Sabyr ’19, who conducted research with Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Jeff Bary, gave presentations. Emch received a NASA Space Grant for her research, and Sabyr received funding from Colgate for her summer project.
“I studied a binary star system called DQ Tau, which consists of two T-Tauri stars,” Sabyr explained. “T-Tauri stars are young pre-main sequence stars, which means that they are younger than our sun.”
Emch also researched the DQ Tau star system. “I used high-resolution spectroscopy to analyze indicators that mass is being shuffled around the DQ Tau system, as well as indicators of large cool spots on the young stars’ surfaces,” she said.
More than 50 percent of stars in the universe exist in pairs, like DQ Tau, or groups of three or more. According to Emch, studying the movement of material — called accretion — around these stars helps astronomers understand how planets form. “Accretion activity, even around binary stars, can help shed light on how our own solar system may have formed,” she said.
For students interested in STEM careers, the KNAC symposium is a chance to practice presenting research in a formal conference setting. Astronomy students from Haverford College, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Vassar, Wellesley, Wesleyan, and Williams attended.
“It was a great opportunity to learn about astronomy from each other and improve our skills on how to present information clearly and concisely,” Sabyr said.
Added Emch: “Scientific results don’t matter unless you can communicate them. For a lot of individuals, this was a key opportunity to prepare themselves for the next step in life, whether that’s scientific research at grad school or any other field. Communication is key.”
Last summer, both students worked with Chenglu Wu ’19 to reduce data gathered by Bary on DQ Tau at the Apache Point Observatory. “[Conducting] research has helped me further develop my interest in astronomy and has also helped me think even more like a scientist: questioning things, testing, checking, and paying attention to details,” Sabyr said.
Both Emch and Sabyr plan to keep learning about the cosmos at Colgate, and both will continue conducting research and sharing their findings with the community.
“Long term, I’m interested in the communication of complex scientific ideas to the public,” Emch said. “I’d like to help people realize that science doesn’t have to be intimidating.”