Physics Department: REU Projects - Astronomy/Astrophysics

Prof. Timothy Beers
Email: tbeers (at)

The Chemical Evolution and Assembly of the Milky Way: Prof. Beers and his group work on exploring the history of the element production in the Universe, making use of stellar probes from large-scale surveys for metal-poor stars, including the recent trove of information from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). For example, studies based on these data have shown recently that the very first generations of massive stars produced copious amounts of light elements, such as carbon and nitrogen. The REU student will become involved with the analysis and inspection of the stellar spectra from SDSS, as well as other recent surveys, in order to contribute to a number of ongoing projects specific to the assembly of the Milky Way galaxy and the nature of its constituent populations.

Prof. Peter Garnavich
Email: pgarnavi (at)

Cataclysmic variables are binary stars where one component is transferring mass to a compact primary, usually a white dwarf. If the white dwarf is strongly magnetic, then the accreting material can get caught in the field and flow directly on to the magnetic poles of the white dwarf. A system with direct accretion is called a "polar". We have Large Binocular Telescope spectroscopy of a short-period polar in a low-brightness state that reveals its donor star. This is a rare opportunity to use the velocity variations of the secondary star to directly measure the mass of the white dwarf and other parameters of the system. The research will include spectral reductions, velocity estimation and writing python code to determine the stellar properties.