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. Justin Crepp
Email: jcrepp (at)

Professor Justin R. Crepp’s experimental astrophysics laboratory is developing new and innovative technologies to detect extrasolar planets orbiting nearby stars. A number of different approaches and techniques are being pursued; most involve correcting for the image-blurring effects introduced by Earth's turbulent atmosphere. The primary goal of our program is to design, prototype, and test instruments for large ground-based telescopes, such as the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona and twin Keck Telescopes in Hawaii, that enable the discovery and subsequent characterization of terrestrial planets, including those orbiting in the habitable zone. Prospective REU students with an interest in instrumentation and/or computer programming are encouraged to apply.

Prof. Jeffrey Chilcote
Email: jchilcot (at)

Professor Jeffrey Chilcote studies focus on the construction of astronomical instruments and the direct detection and characterization of extrasolar planets. While thousands of planets have been discovered to date, most are only observed by their effect upon their parent star. Direct imaging of extrasolar planets involves blocking, suppressing, and subtracting the light of the bright parent star so that a planet hundreds of thousands of times fainter can be seen and studied in detail. Prof. Chilcote’s instrumentation lab works with telescopes in Hawaii and Chile to construct and deploy these sophisticated instruments on sky. REU students will be involved with ongoing instrumentation work and/or the analysis of performance data from these high contrast instruments.

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.

Prof. J. Christopher Howk

Email: jhowk (at)


Gaseous halos of galaxies as drivers of galaxy evolution: Prof. Howk’s group is interested in the gaseous halos of galaxies, which regulate the availability of fuel for star formation in galaxies. In many ways, even the basic constituents of these halos are still in question. Prof. Howk’s group is using atomic absorption line spectroscopy against quasars lying behind galaxies to constrain the properties of these halos. While several projects are available, one research opportunity will make use of data from the Keck 10-m telescopes to constrain the ~million Kelvin gas of the Milky Way’s halo, limiting its mass and temperature.