Bryce is a Senior Researcher at the B612 Asteroid Institute and DIRAC Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Washington. The main focus ofhis academic studies has been the dynamical processes that affect
small body populations in the solar system and their observable
consequences. He uses observational and numerical modeling approaches
on topics such as ancient asteroid families, Main Belt asteroids,
Near-Earth Objects, and comets.
Letter from the Chair
Back in August, when I was lamenting the quiet of the summer months on campus, it was hard to imagine the current whirlwind of activity. We have new students, new researchers, new visitors, and new projects, and every day seems to bring another interesting talk or scientific result to discuss. When I first started here, our talk schedule centered on the weekly Department colloquium, Journal Club presentations by our graduate students, and an occasional visitor talk at lunch time. These days, however, we also have weekly Astrobiology colloquia, weekly lunch talks from our many visitors, talks from visitors and members of the Data Intensive Research in Astrophysics and Cosmology (DIRAC) center, and weekly discussions of new papers on astro-ph over coffee (“CAphEINE”). For as long as I’ve been an astronomer, the most exciting time seems to be RIGHT NOW, and the current department schedule certainly confirms that impression.
For me, one of the highlights of this past quarter was the Department’s “Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) Hack Day”, organized by Prof. Eric Bellm, DIRAC Associate Director Dr. Daniela Huppenkothen, and DIRAC postdoctoral researcher Zach Golkhou. ZTF is an exciting time-domain survey of the northern sky that UW recently joined as one of a small number of partners. This project is allowing UW scientists to make exciting scientific discovers while also developing critical expertise for the upcoming Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). The Department’s ZTF Hack Day was a supportive, collaborative, and extremely efficient way to jump start our ZTF-based research, by helping us rapidly climb the steep learning curve that any new project requires. We celebrated the end of the day with our first monthly department social, hosted by Prof. Andy Connolly.
Looking forward, one of the biggest events on the calendar is the coming of the American Astronomical Society’s national winter meeting to Seattle. Many of our wonderful collaborators and former students will be coming to town, and many of our faculty, postdocs, and students (grad and undergrad!) will be giving talks at the meeting itself. We hope to catch up with you at the meeting or on campus before or after. In particular, for those of you who have helped to support the Department’s Jacobsen, Hodge, or Wallerstein funds, please reach out so that I can thank you in person.
Best wishes for a relaxing and satisfying holiday season,
Professor and Chair
University of Washington
Kudos of the Quarter
Aislynn Wallach is an undergraduate senior majoring in Astronomy and Physics. All students in the Astronomy Department know that a good life includes a lot of giving. Accordingly, some of the undergraduate majors in the Astronomy Department regularly do fantastic volunteer outreach to the general public. Here we’d like to recognize Aislynn, who often volunteers their time to meet with the public at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory (“TJO”).
“Note that our wonderful volunteer donates their services in the evenings when they might otherwise be studying, socializing, or doing their laundry. The many Open House activities would be impossible without the undergraduate volunteers like Aislynn.” – Dr. Bruce Balick
Aislynn is currently working on two projects: the first with Dr. Jamie Lomax — former UW post-doc, now a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis — using spectropolarimetry to analyze the geometry of the binary star system V367 Cyg. So far they have preliminary polarimetric light curves of the system, and are working on finalizing them and the code to write them before their poster presentation on the project at AAS this January. Closer to home, they also work with graduate student Trevor Dorn-Wallenstein attempting to find Wolf-Rayet stars in the h+chi Persei star cluster.
In their free time, Aislynn enjoys baking, especially when they get to bring their experiments in to feed their friends. They spend time with the UW Q Center community. Aislynn is also an officer in the League of Astronomers. The LOA plays a major role in undergraduate life in the Astronomy department. We are excited and proud to share Aislynn’s work with you.
Graduate Research: Focus on Margaret Lazzarini
This quarter’s spotlight is on graduate student Margaret Lazzarini. Her research focuses on studying populations of X-ray binaries in local galaxies. X-ray binaries are systems in which a compact object primary (black hole or neutron star) accretes matter from a stellar companion. She is particularly interested in how we can use the population demographics — the fraction of systems with a black hole/neutron star primaries and different types of companion stars — to better understand the formation and evolution of these systems.
“Margaret has been pushing to the forefront of multiwavelength X-ray/optical studies of nearby galaxies. She just completed her second internship at Goddard, published her first first author paper as well as a second author paper over the past few months. ” – Dr. Benjamin Williams
Margaret uses X-rays to study the compact object. Observations of high energy X-ray emission with NuSTAR can distinguish between black holes and neutron stars. Also observations at optical wavelengths allows for the companion star to be identified and its spectral type to be determined. Her recent work has included a multi-wavelength study of the high mass X-ray binary population in Andromeda using data from the NuSTAR X-ray telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Hubble Space Telescope.
Outside of research, Margaret is passionate about teaching and improving equity and inclusion within astronomy. This fall she is the instructor of the Pre-Majors in the Astronomy Program (Pre-MAP) seminar. Margaret has co-developed and taught a two week course in astronomy called Protostars for middle school girls. This is taught through UW’s educational outreach office in the summer of 2016 and 2018. Margaret has also spent many Friday mornings giving planetarium shows to local school groups as both a presenter and the planetarium’s coordinator. Prior to coming to UW she taught high school physics and astronomy for two years in Los Angeles while obtaining a Master’s Degree in education. She recently won the Graduate Student award for teaching.
“Margaret has consistently been one of the strongest TAs every quarter that she has taught. Her teaching experience prior to graduate school has paid large dividends for the students in the Astronomy 101, 102, and 150 classes. Margaret’s commitment to teaching is demonstrated in her preparation and execution in the classroom. Even in topics far outside her field of research, Margaret’s dedication to teaching has lead to an outstanding experience for the undergraduate students.” – Professor Toby Smith
Somehow Margaret has found time to experience life outside of the department. She spent two years of graduate school playing on the UW club water polo team, and these days she spends most of her free time hanging out with her adorable dog, Melba. Congratulations to Margaret and all of her accomplishments in the recent years.
The League of Astronomers Club
The League of Astronomers is a club at the University of Washington which seeks to expose as many people as possible to the joy of astronomy. Our fall meeting time is Tuesdays at 6pm in PAB B360, so join us for some fun trivia and tea time seminars! Please contact our group at email@example.com if you have any questions about becoming a member, or if you have any general inquiries about our group.
Colloquium Tea Time Seminar
We are planning on holding Tea Time Seminars with the weekly colloquium speaker. This will include a brief summary by the speaker on who they are, what they’re researching followed by a Q&A session with our members. For the rest of this quarter, we will be holding it at 11:00am on Thursdays in the Astrolab (PAB B360). There will be tea and cookies!
A list of the quarterly colloquium speakers can be found under the News & Events page on the Astronomy website.
Movie Review: First Man
The League of Astronomers was invited to a pre-screening of the new movie First Man with Ryan Gosling! It received mixed reviews from our members, giving us a final Dehydrated Space Tomatoes rating of 60%. Overall, we liked the emotional focus of the movie, but thought it was too slow-paced at times. From the trailer, one would assume the movie would be a fast-paced action movie about the journey to the moon, but in reality it was about the emotional journey of one man. It also glossed over societal issues of the time that it could have delved into more deeply. However, its brutally honest representation of the human toll of the space race won over most of our members. While it wasn’t a bad movie, it’s certainly no Hidden Figures.
“It made me want to be an astronaut. The Moon landscapes were so beautiful and serene. It felt like I was really there, stepping in the regolith, soaking in the barren grandeur. And then a thought crossed my mind: Oh my god, Hollywood actually faked the Moon landing!” –Postdoc Michael Wong
“It was amazing to really see the struggles NASA had to go through. I did not realize there were so many political setbacks and deaths. It was inspiring to see what they had to overcome to get us to the moon.” – Undergraduate Courtney Klein
American Astronomical Society Meeting in Seattle!
The League of Astronomers has secured travel funds to send 5 undergraduate students to the 233rd AAS conference in January 2019. The AAS meeting is the most highly attended meeting in the Astronomical society every year in the US. Additionally, we have received an invitation to showcase the mobile planetarium at AAS from UW alum Philip Rosenfield, the project director for World Wide Telescope (WWT). Our goal is to teach AAS members how the mobile planetarium functions, showcase WWT software, and announce our future plans towards targeted outreach. We are planning to send 5 volunteers to carry out this goal, who will also be able to attend the meeting at no additional cost.
Letter from the Chair
It is another glorious summer here at UW Astronomy (or at least, it was until the wildfire smoke moved in). While much of the country focuses on vacations and BBQ’s, many of us in the Department are engaged in that long academic tradition of “happily catching up on all the research you couldn’t keep up with during the school year.” For many of us, that involves long uninterrupted stretches in the office with few meetings, allowing us to concentrate on solving existing problems, or exploring new ideas. These fertile periods are often interspersed with trips to visit collaborators or to attend interesting conferences, which in turn spawn new projects and plans for future research. As such, summers are the time when we recharge intellectually for the coming year.
But, the flip side is that summers in the Department can be quiet. Our colleagues are often traveling the world, and we have fewer events that bring us together as a group. Moreover, we miss our students, who normally bring a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and energy to the campus. As much as I enjoy the focus on research during the summers, it’s always a thrill when the students return to campus in late September.
This year promises to be more exciting than usual, as we welcome a particularly large class of entering graduate students, who I know will add to the terrific intellectual community of their more senior graduate colleagues. We also will welcome a new crop of undergraduates to our Pre-Major in Astronomy Program (Pre-MAP; http://depts.washington.edu/premap/). This long-running program is for entering students (both freshmen and transfers) who are interested in math and science and who are traditionally underrepresented in astronomy. The Pre-MAP cohort engages in astronomy research in their very first quarter on campus, while also receiving one-on-one mentoring and support from their peers. Pre-MAP is yet another program that was started and fostered by our graduate students, who continue to excel at bringing science to the larger world, at the same time as they discover new truths about the Universe.
And on that inspirational note, I’d like to end by thanking all of you for the many contributions you’ve made to the department through the years — through your time, your financial support, or your well-wishes. Now that this note is written, I’m off to a BBQ!
Professor and Chair
University of Washington
Kudos of the Quarter
This summer we’d like to give kudos to a senior undergraduate Courtney Klein. Courtney is currently double majoring in Astronomy and Physics. Over the summer she has been at Montana State University working with Prof. Dana Longcope on solar flare simulations.
“My project was to use simulations to recreate the observed results of a solar flare from 2017 so that we can build a better understanding of the physics driving the flare. I have been able to reproduce the temperature and emission measure of the observed flare using the simulation and so we are in the process of writing a paper that explains the physics behind the flare’s temperature distribution.”
When she gets back she will have only one quarter before she graduates with honors in both the Physics and Astronomy departments. Courtney was also the recipient of the Baer prize. This prize is awarded annually to the top performing undergraduates in the Astronomy department. Courtney is also a member of the League of Astronomers. This group his heavily involved in events at the Theodore Jacobsen Observatory, and giving presentations at the planetarium. She plays a huge role in the success of our departments outreach programs. For the past year she has been working on quasar spectra absorption analysis with Prof. Jessica Werk.
“Courtney has been a stand-out member of my undergraduate research group, Student Quasar Absorption Diagnosticians (Werk SQuAD), for the past year. Having Courtney on the SQuAD has been an absolute game-changer in terms of our overall productivity. She is the kind of student who quietly encourages other students to strive for excellence, leading by example. By bringing her A-game to our SQuAD meetings, Courtney motivates everyone to work harder and more effectively. We are so lucky to have a student like Courtney in our department!” – Prof. Jessica Werk
In her spare time she trains for triathlons with the UW Triathlon Club. She has competed in the Collegiate National Triathlon Championship race, and hopes to race an Ironman in the next couple of years. We are excited to continue to share in her research this fall, and we encourage you to attend one of our many outreach events, at which I’m sure you can find Courtney.
Graduate Research: Focus on Kathryn Neugent
Kathryn Neugent started UW in 2017 and has been working with Dr. Emily Levesque on massive star research, specifically Red Supergiants (RSGs) and their binary properties.
Previous observations of un-evolved massive stars suggest that the binary fraction of more evolved massive stars should be around 30%. However, there are very few binary RSGs known. So, do they just not exist or have we not yet discovered them? This is the question Kathryn is hoping to answer.
Evolutionary models predict that RSGs will be in a binary system with B stars and these combinations should be observable, not just spectroscopically but also photometrically. Kathryn has designed a set of photometric cutoffs that should allow astronomers to search for binary RSGs using just their colors. These cutoffs have been tested with observed RSG and B-star binaries from the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. She has since gone to the Apache Point Observatory to search for galactic RSG+B binaries and will look for more within M31 and M33 this fall with the MMT down in Tucson, Arizona.
In April Kathryn had a first-author AJ paper accepted for publication on the discovery of a unusual runaway yellow star, which received enthusiastic press coverage. Kathryn did a fantastic podcast interview as part of this and is continuing to work on additional research focused on the nature of this star.
“This was actually just one project of hers, building on work that she did with a collaborator of ours while at Lowell Observatory. This all came together while she was also taking classes and doing research with me as an IGERT fellow here, computing a grid of synthetic spectra and photometry for binary red supergiants.” -Professor Emily Levesque
Kathryn’s first year at UW has been phenomenal. We are extremely happy to share her work, and see it spread through the Astronomy community. When she’s not deep in massive star research Kathryn can be found hiking (she misses Colorado and the Rocky Mountains), doing astrophotography, and playing with her cat and corgi. How she has the time to do all of this we’ll never know. Please join us in congratulating Kathryn for finishing her first year with such a flare.
The League of Astronomers Club
The League of Astronomers is a club at the University of Washington which seeks to expose as many people as possible to the joy of astronomy. We will be writing the upcoming events and outreach sections for the newsletter now, and in the future! With many people out of town for the summer, we focus our efforts on running Theodor Jacobsen Observatory events. Regular meetings will resume in the fall. Please contact our group at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about becoming a member, or if you have any general inquiries about our group. Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions about TJO events.
Theodor Jacobsen Observatory is Still Open!
Every summer, Theodor Jacobsen Observatory opens its doors to the public. Sadly, one of our main teachers and guides Prof. Ana Larsen retired. She was a great contributor, organizer, and speaker to the observatory. She is and will be sorely missed. With her departure Prof. Bruce Balick and our very own undergraduate Adriana Gomez-Buckley, event coordinator officer, has been working hard scheduling and organizing the twice-monthly events. The rest of League participates by giving talks, running science demos, and answering any and all questions about the universe we live in. Most recently, homeschool groups have been coming in for personal talks and tours. Even the Protostars, a UW Astronomy summer camp for young girls, made a special visit to learn about spectra, galaxies, telescopes, and what it’s like to be an astronomer. During our events participants are shown how to use our smaller telescopes, they get a tour of the observatory, and they get to test our knowledge of the universe. We look forward to meeting you!
The TJO hosts Evening Public Talks every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month from April to September. There are only two talks left in this year’s season:
September 5 – 8:00 pm: Tzvetelina Dimi, “The Moons of Our Solar System.” This talk will tour through the prominent moons of the Solar System, including those of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Special emphasis will be put on the Galilean moons and their scientific importance. It will also explore the chances of life beneath these surfaces and the mysteries the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
September 19 – 8:00 pm: Bayu Wilson, topic TBA.
Saturn, the Moon and Mars will be visible in the night sky.