Stephanie (shown at left) and Courtney pose in front of the LSST mirror at the University of Arizona Mirror Lab.
Stephanie was a physics major who graduated from Cal Poly Pomona in 2011. During summer 2010, she worked with Dr. Josh Eisner at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory as part of the CAMPARE program, investigating the stellar accretion rates of young, pre-main sequence stars. Based on this work, Stephanie was selected as one of the winners of the Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Award competition "given to recognize exemplary research by undergraduate and graduate students who present posters at the semi-annual AAS (American Astronomical Society) meetings." Stephanie is now a masters student at SUNY, Stony Brook in their M.S. program in Astronomical Instrumentation planning to apply to Ph.D. programs in astronomy. This is her story.
The blistering summer sun shines from its perch in the painfully blue and utterly cloudless sky. As I walk, I can see the ripples of heat radiating up from the ground ahead of me. I observe small clouds of orange dust rising from the footsteps of my fellow sojourners. As the beads of sweat begin to take shape on my forehead, I can see my destination in the distance- the promise of abandoning the heat for an air conditioned office encourages me to plod on. Welcome to a typical July morning in Tucson, Arizona.
Looking out at all of the domes on Kitt Peak as the sun was dipping below the horizon. Photo by Stephanie Zajac.
The extreme desert environment served as a rich backdrop for my summer internship at the University of Arizona. The hot days were spent working from my office analyzing astronomical data, while a select few of my nights were spent collecting that data from an observatory atop Kitt Peak, a mountaintop outside of Tucson that is dotted with more than two dozen telescopes.
The data that my advisor and I collected was spectroscopic data of young stars. After cranking the raw data through a reduction process, I produced an simple spectrum of a star's emission and absorption lines that tell an intricate story of what is going on inside and around that star at an atomic level.
The control room of the 90-inch (2.3 m) Bok Telescope on Kitt Peak, where Stephanie took her data. Photo by Stephanie Zajac.
I learned a lot during my eight weeks in Tucson, including how to collect and reduce data, how to use specialized data analysis programs like IRAF (Image Reduction and Analysis Facility), and what a typical night of observing is like for an observational astronomer. Most importantly for me, however, was being introduced to a community of astronomers, both students and faculty, who work together to understand not only their own research, but also the newest ideas in astronomy. Twice a week, a diverse group of students and faculty would gather for coffee and to discuss a few recently published papers that presented the findings of researchers from around the world. It's an exciting community to be a part of, and it's dazzling and inspiring to realize the magnitude of not only our universe, but also the projects that are helping us advance our understanding of it.