Participants – 2015

Below is a listing of our students for the 2015 Summer Undergraduate Astronomy Institute, with short biographies, and also a bit of information on their institution and year of study, as well as the projects they are working on.

Caltech SURF Students with Mentors

Kevin He  –  – Judy Cohen (mentor)

Physics and Astronomy – Second year, Caltech

“I am a rising sophomore at Caltech. So far, I have only taken introductory core physics and astronomy courses. I previously did a little bit of research during high school, but only in math and electrical engineering. My SURF project this summer will work towards developing and refining a random forest computer algorithm in python to identify and classify RR Lyrae variable stars from PTF data. After that, we will try to improve the code by including WISE colors and eliminating QSOs and quasars from candidacy. We will then make completeness corrections on this updated classifier.”

Samarth Vaijanapurkar– – Ashish Mahabal (mentor)

B.Tech, Mechanical Engineering – Third Year, IIT Gandhinagar

“I am Samarth Vaijanapurkar, studying in Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, India. I am majoring in Mechanical Engineering with minors in Computer Sciences. Astronomy is not my major field of study, but I have taken up interest in this subject and also worked on the computational aspect of it. My major focus for the project is of data analysis and classification in astronomy using domain adaptation. We have ample data with classified labels of variable stars for many surveys (eg. GCVS), however, for some fainter surveys, the labeling is very sparse(e.g. PTF), hence this labeling in not enough to create a supervised learning model. Thus using domain adaptation, we can transform the labelled data from brighter surveys to aid learning of the poorly labelled fainter surveys and also use the unlabelled data from the fainter surveys to develop a semi-supervised model of some kind to obtain a better classification rate in the fainter domain.”

Jingling Li – – Ashish Mahabal (mentor)

Physics and Astronomy – Second year, Bryn Mawr College

“This summer I am doing domain adaptation for classification in astronomy at Caltech, in which I am finding ways to put together information from different astronomical surveys. I have taken an intro seminar to astrophysics in my freshman year. It is very inspiring, but very primitive. Therefore, unfortunately I do not have any prior research experience nor observing experience in astronomy.”

Danny Cushey  – – Tom Prince (mentor)

Physics and Astronomy – Second year, Caltech

“I’m currently a freshman (going into sophomore year) studying astrophysics at Caltech. Regarding previous astrophysics experience: I’ve only had the chance to take one cosmology course so far as a freshman, but I did some astronomy research with a friend in high school using our school’s 14” reflector telescope. I’m working with Dr. Prince on the periodicity of cataclysmic variable systems using data from the PTF and the CRTS this summer.”

Franklin Marsh – – Tom Prince (mentor)

Physics and Astronomy – Third year, Pomona College

“My project will be with Dr. Tom Prince, studying W Ursae Majoris variable in intermediate Palomar Transient Factory and Catalina Real-Time Transient Survey data. W Ursae Majoris variables (or W UMa stars) are a type of eclipsing binary also referred to as contact binaries. These systems consist of two stars that share a common envelope, and thus transfer mass and energy. These systems are generally stable and can persist for millions of years. However, previous surveys have discovered that there are almost no systems with periods of less than 0.2 days, which indicates that systems with shorter periods are unstable and likely result in a merger of the two stars. By working with the large iPTF and CRTS samples, we will better characterize this period cutoff, and search for systems with changing periods (or high period derivatives) indicative of a decreasing distance between the two stars, or inspiraling. If the period and period derivative of a system are well known, a combination of empirical extrapolation and astrophysical modeling can be used to predict the time until the two stars destabilize and merge. Merging events are very exciting because observations of such events would yield extremely valuable insights into stellar physics.

My project will use a machine-learned classifier to search through millions of light-curves, returning us a large sample to perform lomb-scargle periodicity analysis on. There are exciting possibilities for followup observations of interesting systems with P200 DBSP and other instruments. I will be a Junior at Pomona College, and have taken courses involving introductory and observational astronomy, astrophysics, and stellar structure and evolution. I’ve been involved in research about the interaction of storms and zonal winds in Jupiter’s troposphere. I have experience observing on the TMO 1-meter and Brackett 14″ telescopes, using adaptive optics and lucky imaging techniques.”

Maya Kulkarni – Adam Miller (mentor)

Applied Mathematics – Senior, UC Berkeley

“I am working on using Machine Learning techniques to separate stars from galaxies in PTF data. We will be using data from Sloan Digital Sky Survey to create a training set. The goal is to use our model to separate point-sources from galaxies in portions of the Northern sky that have been imaged by PTF but not SDSS. I am creating the model in Python. The ultimate goal is to create a robust pipeline to be able to classify all objects in the non-SDSS region of the sky.

I am a UC Berkeley undergraduate about to enter my senior year. I’m an applied mathematics major, with an emphasis in computer science. I actually have a pretty limited background in astronomy– I’ve taken an astronomy course for non-majors at Berkeley but that’s about it. I am excited to be learning more about astronomy through my programming project!”

Emersson Costa Claro Do Nascimento – – Shri Kulkarni (mentor)

Science and Technology and Aerospace Engineering – Senior, Federal University of ABC, Brazil

“At Caltech, my project is to develop computational analysis packages to interpret observational acquired data from the Palomar Transient Factory. I am currently working on writing a python code to generate and interpret light-curves of periodical phenomena and my supervisor is Dr. Shrinivas Kulkarni.

My observational experience is from the University of Alabama Supernovae Search Project, with an 16-inch telescope and CCD imaging. I also have 3-year research experience from the development of a laser igniter device for the hypersonic propulsion system of the Brazilian Aerospacecraft 14-X. Alongside that, I have also been coordinating the efforts to develop an educational high-powered sounding rocket in Brazil for the past year which also evolves a lot of research.

I am double majoring Junior in Bach in Science and Technology and in Aerospace Engineering at Federal University of ABC (UFABC) in Brazil, but I spent the last two terms as an exchange student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.”

Pomona SURP Students with Mentors

Adam Wade Mitchell – – Phil Choi (joining for Palomar Observatory only).

“My name is Adam Mitchell, and I grew up in Portland, OR.  I am a rising sophomore at Pomona College in Claremont, CA and am interested in Physics and Astronomy.  In high school, I took IB Physics HL with a concentration in Astrophysics and recently took Advanced Introductory Astronomy 51 during the 2015 Spring semester.  My physics background is comprised of the introductory sequence for physics majors at Pomona College, which includes Spacetime, Quanta, Entropy (Phys70); Intro. to Mechanics (Phys71); and Intro. to Electromagnetism (Phys72).  

My research this summer is under the guidance of Professor Phil Choi and my colleagues are Alison Ho and Greta Zhong, who are rising Pomona Sophomores and Juniors, respectively.  Our work primarily focuses on modifying and improving KAPAO, Pomona’s Adaptive Optics System.  Furthermore, our team is part of the JPL NEO project that uses Pomona College’s 1.0 meter telescope at JPL’s Table Mountain Observatory to look for and confirm Near-Earth Objects (NEOs).   My primary task in this project is to understand and be able to debug the code for running commands through the JPL computer and to assist with nightly observations.  

I unfortunately will be unable to attend the entire astrophysics workshop during the end of June, but I look forward to visiting Palomar Observatory in July!”

Allison Joan Ho – – Phil Choi (mentor)

Physics and Astronomy Second Year, Pomona College

“This summer for SURP I am working on the KAPAO adaptive optics system housed at TMO. After several years of development for the equipment, this summer we are hoping to gather observational data and test the capabilities of KAPAO. We will use KAPAO to survey multiplicity in nearby stars, looking into the performance capability for double and triple star systems. We are also to develop a pathfinder for how KAPAO works with high magnitude stars.

I am a rising sophomore at Pomona, and this last year have taken both semesters of the intro physics course offered (PHYS070, 71, 72), as well as the advanced introductory astronomy course (ASTR051). This spring I worked in the Brackett observatory ramping up the capabilities in both domes and assisting general observations. Prior to this past year, in 2013 I was involved in a brief research project on binary star systems at UCI.”

Greta G Zhong  – – Phil Choi (mentor)

Physics and Astronomy – Third Year, Pomona College

“I am a rising junior at Pomona and a astrophysics-track physics major, and I have taken introductory and upper-division physics and astronomy classes. Last summer, I worked on KAPAO, Pomona College’s adaptive optics system with Dr. Choi, and I have significant observational experience with Pomona’s 1-meter telescope at TMO and am experienced in operating and aligning KAPAO.

This summer, I am continuing my work from last summer on KAPAO and am working with Allison Ho and Adam Mitchell under our research advisor, Dr. Choi. After years of system development and alignment, we hope to focus more on observations and data analysis this summer, targeting double and triple star systems in particular.”

Gabrielle Priya Mehta  – – Alma Zook (mentor)

Physics and Astronomy – Second Year, Pomona College

“Hi, my name is Gabi Mehta, and I’m from San Antonio, Texas. I will be a second year at Pomona College in the Fall. Throughout last year, I took the intro classes for physics and astrophysics, and plan to continue my studies in the following semesters. This summer, I am working with Angela Twum on using photometry and polarimetry to study a sample of blazars.”

Angela Awukubea Godfriedovna Twum  – – Alma Zook (mentor)

Physics and Astronomy – Second Year, Pomona College

“I am a international student from Ghana and a rising sophomore here at Pomona. In high school , I took physics for four years but growing up I had always been fascinated by the stars and had this old book about the universe I loved to read so much. To be honest,  that basically sums up my astronomy background .

In my first semester Pomona, I had the opportunity of auditing Professor Vetere’s Intro to Astronomy class and I loved it. This summer, I am working with Dr Zook on her Blazar Project along with my partner ,Gabrielle Mehta, another rising sophomore. We will be doing a lot of observation in hopes of catching a live blazar in action as well as data reduction and coding in Python . To me , this seemed like the perfect combination . “I get to do something I love and apply something I’ve learnt.” I thought. ”

Katherine Elizabeth Hartman  – – Loredana Vetere (mentor)

Physics and Astronomy – Second Year, Pomona College

Aurea – Phil Choi (mentor)

Physics and Astronomy – Second Year, Pomona College

“I am working on a JPL NEO search project this summer. We take data using short exposures in a grid pattern of the sky and send it to JPL for analysis.

I am a rising sophomore, but I’ve been doing astronomy since my junior year of high school. My senior year of high school I did an astro photography tutorial. I’ve taken Astro51 and have been an observatory assistant here at Pomona. This is my first time doing actual research.”

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