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Department of Physics
Spring 2017 Schedule

Experimental Astronomy Lab

Robert J. Thornton, Jr.

Department of Physics

Students and I work on a range of projects involving experimental and observational astronomy.  The experimental projects are usually part of larger telescope projects through collaborations with the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University.   We are also active in observational projects using CCD cameras and spectrographs we have acquired for the WCU observatory.   Below are examples of both current and past student projects that I have supervised.

Student research in astronomical instrumentation
Brittany Johnstone (2009-2011) worked on a number of projects- including redesigning a He-4 refrigerator, building a test cryostat, and travelling Chile to work at the ACT site.  To the right is Brittany’s work on improving the capacity of a closed-cycle He-4 refrigerator.   Her projects were done in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania.  Brittany went on to attend a PhD program in astronomy at the University of West Virginia.

Ben Plumridge and Caleb Keay (2010-2011) worked on a several design studies of select aspects of the Atacama Cosmology Telescope ACTPol camera.  Caleb helped design a cryostat positioning system to support and rotate the instrument in the laboratory.  Ben worked on vacuum testing and performing finite element analyses on the Ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene windows for the camera.  They presented a poster at the 2011 All Sciences Poster Session.

Student research in observational astronomy
Ian Snyder, Nicolas LeGall, Brett Sheriff, Kurt van Mol, and Trevor Davis (2010-2012) started doing the first variable star research in the WCU observatory. A number of Delta Cepheids were observed as part of this first sample, including EH Librae, DY Hercules, GP Andromeda, and VZ Cancer. The light curve to the right is that of VZ Cancer, which was found to have a period of 0.24 days. Since this is longer than the period quoted in the literature, we are eager to collect more data. The data were analyzed using Maxim DL.

Kurt van Mol and Carlos Cartagena (2012-2013) were the first students to take data with the SBIG self-guiding spectrograph. This involved many hours of learning the trade and calibrating in the laboratory. The spectrograph works with an ST-8 camera. "First light" with the spectrograph on the observatory telescope was in the spring of 2013. A picture of Kurt and Carlos with the spectrograph installed is shown on the right. The first data on the sky was of the well-known A0 star Sirius, a spectrograph of which is shown below. A plot of the spectrum is shown in the lower right. Data were analyzed with CCDSoft, IDL, and IRAF.



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