By Laura Quain
Dr. Phill Reed, professor of physics and astronomy and the planetarium/observatory director at KU, was awarded a $250,000 collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation.
In collaboration with Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., the National Science Foundation has awarded KU a three-year international research experience for students. The program provides support for U.S. students to conduct high-quality research abroad with foreign specialists.
According to Dr. Reed, the KU observatory has been used to observe, with high precision, the eclipses of binary stars—stars that eclipse each other—that were discovered by NASA’s Kepler Observatory. He said that discovery of binary stars was a “byproduct” of Kepler’s search for habitable exoplanets.
“Their continued study can help to measure fundamental properties of the stars,” he said.
Reed’s expertise is working with binary stars. According to Reed, studying binary stars is largely similar to studying exoplanets, which are planets that orbit other stars. Students involved in the NSF’s IRES will typically work 40 hours per week throughout the ten-week experience in order to study exoplanets.
KU student participants will work in the on-campus observatory throughout the academic year in order to build the skills necessary to work in a professional research environment. Following the academic year, students will travel to the predetermined country and will then begin their professional work abroad.
Prior to their trip abroad, students will be required to meet certain credentials. Participants will need to devote an average of seven hours per week to a research training and mentorship program, preferably while taking a KU astronomy course.
The summer 2017 program will take those selected to Salerno, Italy. Students will be required to first complete a basic Italian language course. They will not be expected to speak fluently, but it is preferred for the students to be versed enough to allow day-to-day operations in Italy to be made much easier and more enjoyable.
Essentially, this is an all-expense-paid 10 week summer trip to Italy, with opportunities to take weekend excursions to popular sites around Italy. Participants will be accompanied by other American students while they conduct research from approximately May 22 – July 31, 2017.
Participants will benefit in several ways from this experience. They will receive a full year of personalized training and mentorship in scientific research techniques. In addition, they will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to co-discover planets while being credited and published for any contributions that they might make. The students will also receive a $6,000 stipend for their work.
Following the experience, participants will be required to share their experiences with fellow researchers and students. Students will present their research results at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, D.C., January 7-11, 2018.
KU students will benefit their campus by delivering a technical presentation for the KU department of physical sciences, along with a non-technical public lecture at KU. In addition, they will commit a total of seven hours to help fellow classmates the techniques that they learned during their time in the NSF IRES program.
In order to benefit the community, participants will develop and deliver a public planetarium show related to their research as a part of the KU public show series of fall 2017. They will develop and deliver an activity for local K-12 students with a theme based on their research in collaboration with KU’s Science Outreach Program.
In summer 2018, participating students will be sent to the University of Southern Queensland’s observatory in Australia.