Research Experiences for Undergraduates
Physics & Astronomy
Research Projects: Astrophysics
Galaxies and Dark Matter Halos
(Prof. Andreas Berlind)
We will study the properties of galaxies and galaxy groups/clusters in the Sloan Digital Sky
and connect them to the properties of dark matter halos. The goal is to constrain galaxy
as well as cosmological parameters. Projects available for REU students will include analyzing
to measure galaxy clustering, as well as data from large cosmological N-body simulations to
Computational Simulations of Black Hole Formation
(Prof. Kelly Holley-Bockelmann)
We will use high resolution N-body simulations and numerical models
to understand how black holes grow within galaxies. Projects for
REU students will include calculating the gravitational wave signal
from merging supermassive black holes, modeling black holes
in triaxial galaxies, and studying the effect of isolation on
black hole growth.
Star Formation and Extrasolar Planets
The Stassun group is conducting observational studies to understand the birth of stars and to search for planets around other stars.
The star formation research includes time-series photometric studies of young stars in a variety of star-forming regions in order to characterize the evolution of the stars' angular momenta and also to search for eclipsing binary stars with which to measure the fundamental properties of newly formed stars. The exoplanets research includes searches for signals of "transiting" planets through the examination of data streaming from Vanderbilt's Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT) in South Africa as well as radial-velocity data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey's APOGEE project. An observing run in Chile is possible. Other projects involve Vanderbilt's participation in the upcoming NASA TESS mission. A related set of projects involves SLoWPoKeS for discovery and analysis of extremely wide binary star systems both as sites of possible exoplanet formation and also as probes of stellar evolution and galactic structure.
Archaeoastronomy in the South American Andes
(Prof. John Janusek and Prof. Keivan Stassun)
Archaeologists have demonstrated that ancient Andean cultures tracked and recorded celestial movements through architectural alignments and observation points on the landscape. The city of Tiwanaku, located in the high Bolivian Andes (3,800 meters aboe sea leel), may have been the center of the first ‘state calendar’ in this mountainous world region. This project will involve travel to Bolivia to study the alignments of monumental architecture and likely observation points in relation to calculations for horizon rise and setting points of solar, lunar, and other celestial phenomena between AD 600 and 1000.
Data Visualization and Discovery: Understanding the Cognitive Basis of Scientific Insight in Astronomy
(Prof. Maithilee Kunda and Prof. Keivan Stassun)
In this project, we are investigating exploratory data visualization in astronomy: how astronomers work through big data and visualization tools to find interesting new patterns. Our goal is to understand how humans explore visual encoded data until the “aha” moment happens. This project is part of a current collaboration with Prof. Keivan Stassun, in the department of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt, whose team recently made a “visually inspired” discovery about stellar flicker that was published in Nature (https://news.vanderbilt.edu/2013/08/21/surface-gravity-of-stars).
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