Summer Research at Williams Collegeeboettch | July 4, 2010
Hi everyone, my name is Erin Boettcher and I’m an astrophysics major in Haverford’s class of 2012. Through the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium, I am spending the summer in a research experience for undergrads program at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. I am now three weeks into the ten week program, and I must say that it has been an excellent experience so far.
Along with my advisor, Dr. Steven Souza, and my research partner, I am working on the starting stages of a project called “H-alpha Monitoring of Emission-Line Stars in Young Clusters.” The project focuses on stars with spectral type Be, or rapidly rotating stars with one or more emission lines in their spectra. We are particularly interested in Be stars with H-alpha emission lines that are found in open clusters. Although these emission lines are known to vary with time, the mechanism behind this variability is not entirely understood. Using Williams’ 0.6 meter telescope, a CCD camera, and on-band and off-band filters, we intend to implement long term monitoring of such stars in order to better understand this aspect of stellar structure and evolution. Over the course of the summer, we hope to evaluate the project’s viability, select stars for study, begin initial observations, and establish effective methods of data reduction and analysis. Seeing a project built from the ground up is exciting to experience!
The Williams College campus has been a great environment for summer research so far. There is a great camaraderie not only among the students working in the astronomy department but among those working in other science departments as well. In addition to the eight students doing research in astronomy, there are over 150 students doing research in biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, and math. Students and professors make an effort to interact with each other both within and outside of their own departments, including weekly lunches accompanied by research talks, afternoon breaks to play Trivial Pursuit (students against professors — which is bad news for the students!), and friendly competitions between departments in activities such as ultimate Frisbee. We have also been trained to give weekly shows in Williams’ planetarium, so I’ll hopefully be giving my first show this week.
Overall, I’ve had a great start to my summer here at Williams. I know that there is a lot of work to be done over the next seven weeks, but I look forward to watching our project grow and evolve. Every morning when I leave my dorm, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be able to spend my summer on such a beautiful campus doing work that feels more like fun!
That’s it for now…best of luck to everyone else doing research this summer!