Summer Research: Emily Cunningham ’12, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysicsecunning | July 14, 2011
Hello, my name is Emily Cunningham and I am another rising senior participating in summer research. This summer, I am working at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, with Dr. Francesca Civano on pairs of X-ray sources in the Chandra COSMOS survey.
The COSMOS field is a region of the sky that has been surveyed in over thirty different wavelengths, resulting in a wealth of data on the sources in the field. The X-ray sources I am studying are active galaxies. While active black holes are often obscured by dust or light from the galaxy, there is the least amount of obscuration in the X-ray. As such, detection in the X-ray is the best way to unambiguously identify an active galactic nucleus (AGN). Therefore, we can use the data from the Chandra COSMOS survey to identify pairs of AGN and the data from other COSMOS surveys to study their properties in detail.
While I am very much enjoying the science, my summer here has been so much more than simply a research experience. First of all, the program itself has many components to help us prepare for our future careers in astronomy: the SAO REU aims to give its students a window into what life as both a graduate student and an astronomer is like. We have had lunch discussions on how to apply for NSF fellowships, what the application process is like for graduate school (from both current Harvard graduate students and Harvard faculty on the admissions committee), and about research ethics.
In addition, we have multiple opportunities to interact with many of the amazing astronomers that work at the CfA. Every Thursday afternoon the interns host a colloquium: we have seven speakers throughout the summer, each engaging in a different kind of research in astronomy. Each week two interns host the colloquium, and are responsible for meeting the speaker ahead of time, arranging for the food and beverages, and introducing the speaker. It has been wonderful to meet members of the CfA community, learn about some of the different fields within astronomy, and to have a brief opportunity to practice speaking in front of large crowds.
The writing experience has also been very valuable. Over the course of the summer, each SAO intern produces a paper on their research project, and gives a 15 minute talk on the research at the end of the summer. We produce three drafts of our papers: the first three weeks in (Intro and Methods), the second, a full draft, seven weeks in (due next week!), and the final draft due at the end of nine weeks. It has been wonderful to be able to develop my scientific writing skills and to have conversations with multiple experienced astronomers on both my writing and my project.
Above all, however, I am grateful for my relationships with the other students in the program, both the Astronomy REU and the Solar Physics REU (including the delightful Andrew Sturner). One of my favorite parts about studying astronomy at Haverford is our tight community of students: we work together and learn so much from one another. I’m thrilled that I have found another such community here. Even though we are working in many different fields and in many different programming languages, we still rely on each other for proofreading papers, debugging code, or talking through concepts. In addition, we all live together in Harvard graduate student housing, so we often cook together and explore the area together. Our adventures have included the Boston Aquarium, the Fine Arts Museum, Provincetown, Wonderland Beach, and Chinatown, and we will be going to stay at my house in New York City next weekend! I am so happy to have the fellow interns, both as friends and as colleagues, and will no doubt maintain these relationships for a long time.