Undergraduate Research by Graduation Year

2023 

Lillian Wright (she/Her)
Research Advisor: Kate Whitaker 

Project 
Summer 2020 I performed research remotely as an intern within the Five College Astronomy Department under Professor Kate Whitaker with the support of NASA Massachusetts Space Grant Funding and the David J Van Blerkom Research Scholarship. The primary goal of my research project is to use EAzY, a photometric redshift fitting software developed by Brammer et al (2008), to scan the background of eight Hubble Space Telescope images of lensed galaxy clusters from the REQUIEM Galaxy Survey in search of high redshift (z>5) candidates.

Skills Developed 
Through this project, I became proficient with Python, I learned how to work within a research group, I learned how to present my research (the internship ended with an undergraduate astronomy department presentation seminar), and I learned how to manage my time as a full-time researcher. 

 
Advice for undergrads:

Find someone in your department who you really admire and who's research really inspires you and start from there. It never hurts to ask if a professor is looking to take on undergraduates. A lot of times the answer is yes because faculty are understanding of the fact that everyone has to start somewhere. Even if the answer is no, just keep looking until you find someone who is willing to take you on. Start small and work steadily towards your goals, go at your own pace. 

 

2022 
Name: Meredith Stone 
Research advisor: Alex Pope

Project 

I study the balance between star formation and supermassive black hole activity in infrared-bright dusty star-forming galaxies in the local Universe. If we understand this relationship in galaxies today, we can trace it back through cosmic time to explain how galaxies have evolved over the history of the Universe. 

Skills Developed 
My project is computational, so I’ve gained a lot of Python experience over the last two years. 
More abstractly, I’ve learned not only how to manage my time but my tasks: I get to be an active 
participant in deciding what I do, and I’ve become more comfortable weighing in over time. 

Advice for undergrads:  

I recommend coming to colloquium, Journal Club, and other events to start to learn about 
professors and what they study. You’ll also learn a lot about different astronomy topics, which 
might help you decide what area of astronomy you’d like to research. 

 

2021 

Jea Adams (she/her)
Research Advisor: Alexandra Pope 
 
Project:  

In the history of the universe, the epoch of 6 billion years to 3 billion years before the present date is marked by a significant decrease in the rate of star formation in galaxy clusters. This is in stark contrast to the still rampant star formation in isolated galaxies. In my research with Prof. Alex Pope, I investigated how dust and gas emission change during this period, and whether dust depletion is to be blamed for the lack of star formation in galaxy clusters. 

Skills Developed: 

Professor Pope guided me in using bootstrapping and binning techniques to increase the signal of detections in our dataset. These statistical techniques were quite new to me, but turned out to be essential for our analyses. Now, I continually see examples of their applications in other fields of research. 

Advice for Undergrads: 
 
Professors are generally really kind, and always excited to talk about their research. Definitely reach out to people who work on problems you find interesting and ask them about the work they do. As an example, I first got interested in Professor Pope’s research after listening to her give a talk at colloquium. She was happy to chat with me after, and allowed me to sit in one of her group meetings. This was a great way for me to see what the people in her group work on day to day. 

 

2020 

Owen Henry
Research advisor: Dr. Alexandra Pope  
 

Project: 
The projects that I worked on under Professor Pope’s guidance sought to gain insight on the formation and evolution of galaxies: how the universe has evolved from early times to the present day, and what the most influential parameters are that drive large scale evolution. In particular I worked on a project testing the accuracy of a modelling software called CIGALE and another that is a part of a larger collaboration investigating images of galaxy clusters categorized as “massive and distant” at a variety of redshifts in order to put together a picture of cosmological evolution
 

Skills Developed: 

Of course, I learned more about how to work with a team and be a member of the Department of Astronomy at UMass in my time doing research. The biggest technical skill I gained throughout my time, however, was in computer programming. Particularly manipulating data in Python. This knowledge is widely applicable and can be used in a range disciplines outside of the scope of astronomy. But more importantly I learned how to read and digest scientific papers and materials. I learned how to extract information, draw out my own conclusions, and then apply these ideas to my own work. In my opinion this is the most important skill I learned at school: how to be an active member of the scientific community

Advice for Undergrads:  

Step number one is put yourself out there. Even though your professors might appear to be intimidating, they want you to succeed as much as you do. Approach them and ask if they have time to take on a new student for research. If you are denied the first time: rinse and repeat. The faculty and staff at the Five College Astronomy Department are incredibly kind and nurturing folks. They want you to get involved. All you have to do is be willing to try something new and maybe step out of your comfort zone a little. If you do these things, I know you’ll find success at the Department

Zoe Kearney (she/her)
Research Advisor: Dr. Alexandra Pope  

Project 
I explored the impact of environment on dusty star forming galaxies in the COSMOS field. I used pre-existing surveys and 3D density maps to examine star formation rate (SFR) as a function of local density for different masses and redshifts. With access to far infrared data for the sample, we were able to look at how properly accounting for the obscured star formation changes the trends of SFR versus density by comparing to similar studies done in literature. 

Skills Developed 

The most important skill I developed in this project was being able to create a network of python scripts to do my analysis efficiently and accurately. Synthesizing information from relevant literature was another skill I developed, especially during the writing up of my project as my senior honors thesis. Advice for undergrads seeking research experience: Go for projects and opportunities that challenge you. Pushing through challenges is one of the best learning experiences you can go through as a young researcher. At the same time never sell yourself short of what you are capable of. 

 

Kenneth Lin (he/him)
Research Advisor:Dr. Alexandra Pope  

Project:  
While I was involved in a number of projects at UMass, my culminating work was on developing simulations for the TolTEC instrument, in preparation for the surveys it will conduct with the Large Millimeter Telescope. These simulations were aimed at determining the effects of multiplicity and confusion in the TolTEC beam. Using my simulations, we predicted the expected completeness and reliability levels of different source extraction parameters and make recommendations on best practices for optimizing source detection and quantifying biases.  

Skills Developed: 
Working on computationally intensive projects trained me in practical programming skills that are not typically taught in the academic curriculum for physics majors. Manipulating large datasets compels you to think about how to most efficiently structure programs for solving what would otherwise be an intractable problem. These are invaluable technical skills that are prerequisite for both research and industry applications. Conducting research has also enabled me to become a more independent and creative thinker—there are no instruction guides in research because you are at the forefront.  

Advice for Undergrads:  
Be curious and be prepared! You might not know what you are interested in initially but look around and skim the papers that faculty have published. Reach out to professors whose research looks interesting and ask for a meeting to learn more about it—they are extremely willing to discuss their work with you and showing your interest by having some idea of what they do is an impressive first impression. If you are interested in their research, ask to see if they have a project that you can help with. There are always faculty available who are more than willing to take on an undergrad for a research assistantship, you just need to ask. 

 

Savio Oliveira (he/him)
Research advisor: Robert Gutermuth

Project: 
Combine Spitzer data with Gaia DR2 to constrain the distance distribution of the more exposed young stellar objects (YSOs) in the Mon R2 molecular cloud that have protoplanetary disks (based on the Spitzer data), and then we could try to find new members (either diskless, or those that were considered likely contaminants like active galaxies in the background). 

Skills Developed: 
Taking on a research project taught me a lot about the collaborative process that is so crucial to modern publications. Science is no longer a feasible task for lone wolves, it requires communication, compromise, and understanding between everyone. Personally I learned a lot of coding in the Python language, although everyone's experience will vary, I strongly suggest picking up a coding language and focusing on it.

Advice for Undergrads 
The first and most important step is to take a leap of faith, don't let the fear of rejection steer you away from contacting any of the professors in the department, not everyone will be able to give you the opportunity that you want but you won't know that until you reach out. Second: don't be afraid of not knowing everything right away, that is what getting research experience is about. Apply to that REU that you;'re unsure of, send an email to every professor in the department until you get a nibble. Everyone has to start somewhere. 

 

Yuxuan Zeng (he/him)
Research advisor: Daniel Wang 
 

Project: 
My research has been focused on the diffuse X-ray emission from nearby galaxies. We know that for spiral galaxies X-ray morphology is tight correlated to HII regions and so we want to know what causes this.  I constructed RGB images, surface brightness profiles, spectra, and temperature maps. RGB images are composite images of different wavelengths. We aim to compare the morphology of gas observed at different wavelengthes. Surface brightness profiles help us to calculate the relationship of the x-ray energy output to young stars. Spectroscopic analyses allow us to know the abundances of the element w.r.t solar, the temperature of the hot plasma and so on. Temperature map is constructed from fitting the spectrum at each pixel. I continue to work with Professor Wang after my graduation and hope to get a paper published. 
 

Skills Developed: 

I have achieved and learned a lot during this project, I learned how to process data and many basic unix commands, got familiarized with the linux system, learned how to use CIAO and xspec softwares, how to write my own python code, and how writing scientifically by using LaTeX. 

Advice for Undergrads:  

Don't hesitate, just send an email to professors and introduce yourself, then tons of research opportunities await.  

 

2019

Sam Clyne (he/him)
Research Advisor: Professor Min Yun 

Project:  
My research project was to develop a method to blindly search for new objects in ALMA data using a blind clump-finding algorithm.  The package produced spectra as well as moment maps of objects and matched significant peaks in the spectra plots to the closest emission line from an ALMA database. 

 
Skills Developed: 
This project taught me many coding skills.  In addition to general python experience, this project helped me develop my ability to independently research and implement different python packages and to write clear, well documented code.  The project also helped me learn to read academic papers and how to engage others about research. 

Advice for Undergrads: 

Don't let feeling under-qualified stop you from pursuing research.  Every advisor wants you to succeed and get something valuable out of your experience whether the project gets published or not.  If you reach out and show that you're passionate about the field, your advisor will help you develop the skills you need along the way. 

 

Silvana Delgado Andrade (she/her) 
Research Advisor: Min Yun 

Project: 
I characterized the mass distribution and overdensity of galaxy companions within the 1 Mpc radius of the massive dust star-forming galaxies at z > 2, identified by their rest frame far-IR luminosity (ULIRGs/SMGs). I derived astrometry and photometry of the IR sources using the archival ALMA data and analyzed the stellar properties of companions using archival HST images and published multi-wavelength photometry catalog.  

Skills Developed: 
Through this project I developed computational techniques to do image analysis on multi-wavelength data. I did a senior research project and investigated galaxy formation and its conditions at high-redshift. It was an extremely valuable experience as I began to understand the intricacies of galaxy classification and astronomical research. 

Advice for Undergrads:  

Get involved with the department and apply to everything! It is never too early (or late) to start, no matter your level of research experience. If you don't know how, talk to professors, upperclassmen, graduate students and ask them about their research and different opportunities. Everyone is incredibly helpful and always willing to help. 

 
2018
Alan Braeley (he/him) 
Research advisor: Professor Grant Wilson 

Project 
I worked primarily on the copper straps which serve as connections between various rigid structures inside of the TolTEC cryogenic camera. It is necessary to cool the camera down in order for it to observe in the targeted range on the light spectrum: millimeter-wavelength light. Different materials expand and contract at differing rates as a function of temperature. However, when a camera like TolTEC requires the use of various materials, a flexible copper strap such as the ones we used serve as both flexible and effective thermal connections. 

Skills Developed: 
This project taught me a wide breadth of things: the basics of lab safety, basic machining (I broke so many drill bits) to include machines like lathes, power drills, and presses, and finally Professor Wilson ensured everyone in the laboratory had some basic experience writing scripts. In my case this was necessary to calibrate thermometers. 
Advice for Undergrads:  

Be enthusiastic about what you want research experience in. Want to study cosmology? Know which faculty share this interest and reach out to them. Do not expect the opportunities to find you! Learn to code. Python would be a very good starting point as it is currently one of the most popular tools for processing and analyzing data in the sciences and has far-reaching applications outside academia as well and can serve as a considerable strength both to Professors looking for potential research assistants as well as employers after college. 

 

Kendall Sullivan
Research advisor: Daniel Wang 

Project 

I worked collaboratively in a small group to develop a new analysis technique using radio polarization observations to identify the signs of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) in edge-on galaxies. Few sentences about what skills you developed during this project:  

 

Skills Developed: 
This was my first research project, so I developed a huge variety of skills. I already knew how to code, but more fully developed my technical skills like coding and data analysis and reduction. I also learned a lot about scientific communication by working on the project in a group, and by communicating my work in both written and presentation formats. 

Advice for Undergrads 
Get involved early and try out different projects! Learning early on if you like research can help you decide a career path with the maximum amount of information (e.g., if you don't like research, probably don't plan on grad school), and trying multiple projects can expose you to many different subfields and techniques. Also, if you're looking to start research later in your undergraduate career, just go for it! It's never too late to try research out. Publication: "CHANG-ES - VIII. Uncovering hidden AGN activity in radio polarization”, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 464, 1333 

 

2015-2017

TBA 

Are you an alumn with an undergrad research project to share? Email Department Assistant Cara Iacoponi at ciacoponi@umass.edu 

 

2014

Marie Calapa
Research advisor: Daniela Calzetti  

Project: With Dr. Calzetti, I worked on two projects, both of which were related to dust in other galaxies and their possible connections to star formation. I began the first project in my sophomore year when I approached Dr. Calzetti to see if there was any research I could possibly help with at the time. She suggested a study into the dust emission in the nearby galaxy M33 to see whether certain IR signatures correlated with star formation or not. I was able to wrap this project up before my senior year and write and publish a paper on my findings in APJ. My next project with Dr. Calzett I built upon the skills I had developed and in this project I continued to study interstellar dust and stellar populations. This project became my honors thesis and investigated the effect of old stellar populations on the Schmidt-Kennicutt Law in NGC628 with plans to extend this research to other galaxies. Few sentences about what skills you developed during this project: Prior to these projects, I had very little experience with data processing and analysis through the use of computer programming such as IDL or python. I learned a lot about coding on the job as I processed raw image files into workable data and performed calculations via programs I wrote to extract information from the images. I also became familiar with how to research and read literature from the astronomy community in order to learn more about my research area specifically. There were also a lot of opportunities to practice communication about research with other astronomers, not only at UMass Amherst, but with colleagues from other institutions that I would meet at conventions and internships. An invaluable skill that came from attending such meetings was developing the ability to summarize and explain my research and findings to others in the scientific community via presentations and posters. This culminated in publishing a research paper in APJ and presenting my findings as an honors thesis.  

Advice for Undergrads:  
My advice is to not be worried that you may not be perfectly experienced to get started with research at an early stage. Much of what you will need to know will be learned on the job and your research advisor will help and support you as you gain the skills you need to perform research. Communication with your research advisor is also key; it’s much better to ask for help if you are stuck than to put off the project due to uncertainty of the next step you should take. I also highly recommend applying to many outside research opportunities such as summer REUs or internships. Not only do you get to build your skill set without distraction during the summer, you get to live in a new place and meet new people in your field that may become great friends.