When Dr. Katie Devine hired her summer research students this past spring, she dangled a carrot in front of them. She said it was possible, but not certain, that they’d be taking an outing to New Mexico after the summer work was completed.
But when Devine, a physics professor whose expertise lies in astronomy, told them they’d be traveling to the Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico, to continue their work, the response might seem unusual to some.
“They were hesitant at first. They were a little worried (about missing class),” Devine said of the study-away opportunity, which took place in early September. “They’re good students. That’s why we hired them.”
Julene Elias, Abdullah Korra and Anna Panova traveled with Dr. Devine to New Mexico, where they met colleagues from Western Washington University to work at the observatory. The ultimate selling point, according to Devine, was the opportunity to work at an observatory, which isn’t an everyday occurrence.
“You don’t get the opportunity to go collect data at a telescope very often,” explained Devine, who estimated it has been about a decade since she last took students to an observatory to do research. “A lot of observing now is done remotely.”
Panova, a junior double-majoring in accounting and mathematics, called it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“I’m very grateful to Dr. Devine for the incredible experience that I had,” Panova said. “It is hard to believe that, being undergraduate students, we were able to drive the telescope. It is exciting to realize that our work has real impact.”
The trip centered around obtaining data for an ongoing project with collaborators at Western Washington University, Seattle University, and St. Martin's University. The College of Idaho students spent the summer developing software for analyzing data collected last May by students and faculty from Seattle University and St. Martin's. Now it was the College’s turn to obtain data for the project. The project revolves around examination of the Galactic Bulge, a tightly-packed group of stars that forms the bright center of the Milky Way galaxy, the galaxy where our solar system and home planet live.
“We’re trying to figure out where those old stars came from,” Devine said. “The idea is those stars have been peeled off, gravitationally, from old, old globular clusters (of stars).”
The research is supported by a grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust to encourage collaborative research among institutions. The RAISE (Research Across Institutions for Scientific Empowerment) grant connected Devine and the College with colleagues at Western Washington, Seattle University, and St. Martin’s University.
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