2021 Carnegie Summer Student Profiles
Name: Vera Berger
School: Pomona College
Advisor: Tom Holoien
Vera Berger of Pomona College aimed to discover which galaxies are most efficient at producing Type Ia supernovae. She used spectroscopic data to study dim host galaxies of Type Ia supernovae and learn about chemical abundances and star formation activity, which could help elucidate answers to this question. This summer, she discovered that “success in research involves not only getting the work done but learning to communicate science, collaborate, and have a sense of where your work fits in the field.”
Name: Hayden Campos
School: Dartmouth College
Advisor: Abigail Polin
Dartmouth College student Hayden Campos modified code used by the Carnegie Supernova Project to confirm theoretical models for how Type Ia supernovae might form from a binary system and what happens to the system’s carbon during the explosion. According to one theory of Type Ia formation, all carbon would be burned away. But another predicts that some carbon could remain. “A primary lesson that I took away from CASSI is that we all have different timelines in life, and that I do not need to rush getting into graduate school directly after undergrad and that I have time to explore other interests outside of academia,” said Campos.
Name: Ashley Carpenter
Advisor: Ylva Götberg
Ashley Carpenter of UCLA researched how the rotation rates of massive stars that have had their cores revealed by interactions with a binary companion. This is a key component for understanding the slow spin observed in binary black hole mergers. To accomplish this, Carpenter is comparing modeled and observed spectra of recently discovered stripped stars in the Magellanic Clouds to measure their projected rotational velocities. The summer program assured her of her passion for the field and her love of collaboration. “I love doing research and even more importantly, I have learned that I am more than capable,” she said.
Name: William (Will) Cerny
School: University of Chicago
Advisor: Josh Simon
University of Chicago student William Cerny worked on a spectroscopic study of two ultra-faint dwarf galaxies named Carina II and Carina III. These dwarf galaxies are satellites of the Milky Way, so they are close enough that astronomers can resolve individual member stars in these galaxies and their individual motions. By studying the dispersion in the velocities of these stars, they can infer the mass and dark matter content of these galaxies. “This summer has emphasized to me the value of talking to and working with people from diverse fields within physics and astronomy, because everyone has unique ideas and stories to tell,” he said.
Name: Kevin Hamel
School: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Advisor: Gwen Rudie
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kevin Hamel looked at the gas surrounding galaxies at redshifts of about 1. An object’s redshift is a measurement of how much the wavelength of its light is stretched by the expansion of the universe before reaching Earth. Using data from 15 quasars observed by the Hubble Space Telescope, and matching ground-based deep-galaxy data, Hamel’s research aimed to identify the typical radial distribution of gas in various states of ionization around the selected galaxies. His favorite part of the internship was the chance to participate in both virtual and in-person activities related to the historic Mt. Wilson Observatory.
Name: Beryl Hovis-Afflerbach
Advisor: Ylva Götberg
Returning student Beryl Hovis-Afflerbach of Caltech studied stripped stars, a type of hot, bright helium star which is produced during interaction between two stars in a binary system. In low metallicity environments, binary interaction is expected to happen very late. This means that the likelihood of massive, stripped stars very rare. They used a variety of models to produce a method of testing this hypothesis in the Small Magellanic Cloud. “I had such an amazing experience here last summer, doing research, working with my mentor, and getting to know the other summer students and everyone at Carnegie,” Hovis-Afflerbach said. “So, I was very excited to return and continue working on this project.”
Name: Gisselle Jimenez
School: California State University San Bernardino
Advisor: Ivanna Escala
In order to gain insight on the history of star and gas formation in Andromeda and learn how the galaxy formed over cosmic time, Cal State San Bernardino student Gisselle Jimenez applied models of chemical evolution to the abundances of stars in Andromeda's Stellar Halo and Tidal Debris. The biggest lesson she took away from the internship is that research takes time. “You will have obstacles and detours along the way, but with patience and perseverance, you will reach your goals,” she said. Her favorite part of the experience was meeting the other CASSI students on the Observatories campus for a week.
Name: Suyash Kumar
Advisor: Lauren Anderson
UCLA’s Suyash Kumar worked on creating a three-dimensional dust map of the Milky Way. A dust map tells astronomers how dust is distributed in a given region of space, and this knowledge can help them correct observational errors introduced by dust between us and stars. To achieve this, he used data from Gaia and APOGEE stellar surveys and implemented a machine learning algorithm that can learn the dust map from these data. “I had already interned at CASSI in the Summer of 2020 and had really appreciated how well-organized and meticulous the program was, in addition to being thoroughly educational,” he said. “One summer couldn't do justice to the entire experience, so coming back for another one was a no-brainer!”
Name: Shalini Kurinchi-Vendhan
Advisor: Xiaolong Du
Caltech student Shalini Kurinchi-Vendhan spent the summer using numerical simulations to explore an alternative theory for dark matter, called fuzzy dark matter. The goal of her work is to use this model to probe structure formation in the universe at different galactic scales. She said that learning how to ask questions was one of the biggest takeaways of the program for her. “Whether through listening to research talks, student teas, or each other's practice presentations, being motivated to ask questions helped me develop my own scientific curiosity for research.”
Name: Kendra Nguyen
School: Pomona College
Advisor: Johanna Teske
Although NASA’s Kepler mission revealed an abundance of planets with radii between one and three times that of Earth, there are none in our Solar System. Pomona College student Kendra Nguyen used two codes to study the compositions of small terrestrial planets. Learning more about the mineral composition and layer densities of these planets could reveal the differences in formation history and evolution that account for the lack of such planets orbiting our own Sun. Nguyen said it has been her dream to work at Carnegie since meeting Observatories Outreach Coordinator Jeff Rich at a public event years ago.
Name: Madeline Overton
School: San Diego State University
Advisor: Andrew Benson
Halo-finding algorithms are used to identify dark matter halos and subhalos in simulations. This summer, San Diego State University student Madeline Overton worked to determine the detection efficiency of the halo finder called Rockstar. “I am so proud to be a part of the CASSI program because Carnegie is a unique and historic institution,” she said. “All of the staff have made this summer such a wonderful and successful experience due to their dedication to enriching the academic journeys of the summer students.”
Name: Jandrie Rodriguez
School: East Los Angeles College
Advisor: Alex Ji
Globular clusters, spheres made up of a million stars bound together and orbiting a galactic core, were thought to have the same chemical abundances, because they were born in the same molecular cloud. East Los Angeles College student Jandrie Rodriguez performed stellar abundance analysis on one of the most metal-poor and least-luminous globular clusters in the Milky Way. Her goal is to determine how this globular cluster’s chemical abundances compare to others and what this might reveal about its origins. She said her experience this summer demonstrated how “an inclusive environment can completely change one's attitude in the workforce.” as well as how to create a productive relationship with advisors.
Name: Riya Shrivastava
Advisor: Kyle Kremer
Caltech student Riya Shrivastava studied how star-cluster dynamics and stellar collisions affect the formation of transients, including supernovae and black holes. She was particularly interested in learning about how types of supernovae and black holes that have not yet been observed form. To accomplish this she analyzed a large suite of N-body models, widely used simulation tools in astronomy and astrophysics, which covered a wide range of properties in young star clusters, specifically varying virial radii and metallicities. One of her favorite experiences of the program was touring the Observatories campus and seeing both the old, in the plate vault, and the new, at the VizLab.
Name: Sonata Simonaitis-Boyd
School: U.C. San Diego
Advisor: Drew Newman
U.C. San Diego student Sonata Simonaitis-Boyd has been working on developing an improved method of predicting galaxy spectra for Lyα tomography. She uses analysis tools to determine the ideal number of degrees of freedom to accurately model the spectra. Her biggest takeaway lesson is that presenting her research is not as scary as she thought it might be. “I went into the program feeling very apprehensive about talking about my research project, but after giving a few presentations, I realized that I actually knew a lot about what I was working on and that I could explain it fairly well,” she said.
Name: Ben Snyder
School: Cal Poly Pomona
Advisor: Fakhri Zahedy
Ben Snyder of Cal Poly Pomona studied the diffuse reservoir of gas surrounding a galaxy, called the circumgalactic medium, using spectroscopic data from a distant quasar. He hopes to help elucidate the relationship between the galactic environment, the gas that comprises the circumgalactic medium, and the process of galaxy evolution. Snyder said that the professional development components of the program taught him about the importance of adjusting presentations of his work to different audiences. He added: “I also learned that making connections is very important because Carnegie is full of people who want to help me succeed.”
Name: Angelina Torres
Advisor: Josh Simon
Caltech’s Angelina Torres studied Tabby’s Star, sometimes called the most mysterious star in the galaxy, which was made popular for its irregular, aperiodic dimming which cannot be explained in terms of stellar astrophysics. A current theory for its behavior is a cloud of gas and dust passing through the line of sight between it and the Kepler telescope Her goal was to map the spatial extent of this cloud, determining whether it is circumstellar to Tabby’s Star or spanning across the interstellar medium. Torres selected the CASSSI program to learn more about the connection between astrophysics and engineering, which is her field of study at Caletch.