Summer Research at the American Museum of Natural Historyeboettch | June 30, 2011
Hi everyone, my name is Erin Boettcher and I am a senior astrophysics major at Haverford College. This summer, I have the great fortune of spending ten weeks doing research in the astrophysics department at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates program brings eight physical sciences students to the museum to do research alongside an advisor, get a taste for a new field of study, and get a chance to explore the city. I am now almost five weeks into the program, and I can’t believe how fast the time has flown!
Both within and outside of the astrophysics department, the American Museum of Natural History is an amazing place to go to work every day. My advisor, Emily Rice, studies low-mass stars, brown dwarfs, and exoplanets. Her current work focuses on fitting simulated spectra of brown dwarfs to observed spectra in order to deduce the objects’ physical properties such as chemical composition, temperature, and surface gravity. My work so far has focused on evaluating how well best-fit simulated spectra for high resolution brown dwarf data fit low resolution data. High resolution data gives more “information” over a smaller wavelength range, while low resolution data gives less information over a wider wavelength range. Low resolution data is more widely available than high resolution data. Thus, determining the limitations of fitting simulated spectra to low resolution spectra is important to determining observing and fitting strategies. This research experience has allowed me to explore a new field of study, learn to program in Python, and have some fun at the same time!
Within the astrophysics department, the REU students are given guidance not only with regard to research skills but with regard to giving talks, attending conferences, applying to graduate school, and more. Each Friday, the astrophysics, geology, and biology departments hold a “wine and cheese” social for students and mentors. Each Friday is also a meeting of the APOD Club; at these meetings, the REU students give short talks inspired by images on the Astronomy Picture of the Day website. We have also been able to attend several talks given by visitors to the department, have been given tours of many of the museum’s exhibits, and are slowly seeing more and more of what the museum has to offer both in front of and behind the scenes. And of course, simply being at the museum means that we’re often in for a surprise, whether it’s a child’s birthday party taking a tour of the department, a camera crew filming an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson , or the cast of Sesame Street filming an episode on the terrace outside.
In addition to loving my job at the museum, I have also found that I love being in the city. Though I’ve never considered myself to be a city girl, I may be slowly changing my mind! Between the free admission to all museums that we get with our museum IDs, the outdoor concerts, the street fairs, and more, it’s impossible to imagine not having something to do. Overall, I am reminded every day of how lucky I am to be here this summer. I hope everyone else doing research this summer feels lucky as well! I look forward to reading about it on Astronoblog!