The NASA-funded Connecticut Space Grant Consortium has awarded four University students and one faculty member with grants after the Consortium’s latest call for proposals. The Connecticut Space Grant Consortium is an organization made up of 16 Space Grant-affiliated universities and community colleges in Connecticut. The awardees at the University include Rachel Aronow ’17, Melissa Lowe ’17, Jesse Tarnas ’16, Aylin Garcia Soto ’18, and Visiting Assistant Professor of History Amrys Williams.
According to their website, the CT Space Grant funds undergraduate, graduate, and faculty STEM-related projects, research, travel, internships and workshops by offering scholarships, fellowships, and grants.
Aronow, an Astronomy major, was awarded the Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which comes with $5,000.
“I’m really excited to have been awarded the grant, and to start working on the project,” Aronow wrote in an email to The Argus.
She is planning on using her grant to work on her research project, which is titled, “Planet Formation and Stellar Characteristics in Tatooine-like Systems.” She is studying Tatooine-like systems (Tatooine is a fictional planet system in the Star Wars movies) which are planet-forming disks that surround a close pair of stars that are in orbit around each other.
“I’ve been reducing images and studying light curves of a young binary star system, called KH 15D,” Aronow wrote. “For this grant project I’m going to be working alongside [John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy William Herbst] in the Astronomy department to derive the masses, radii, and temperatures of these two young stars in KH 15D. I’ll also be studying the materials of early planet formation that make up a disk surrounding the star system.”
Lowe and Tarnas each received Student Travel Grants of $1,000. Lowe, who is working with Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences James Greenwood, is planning to use the travel grant to present research at the Lunary and Planetary Conference in Houston in March.
Tarnas, an astronomy and physics double major with a minor in planetary science, plans to use the grant to present the preliminary results of his senior thesis at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Florida this winter. He is also planning on using the grant to present research he did last summer at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Fransisco.
“The grant will allow me to present my research at two different conferences, so I’m happy,” Tarnas wrote in an email to The Argus.
Soto was awarded the Undergraduate Scholarship, given to a student preparing for a career in STEM, which totaled $5,000.
Similarly, Williams was awarded a $5,000 Faculty STEM Education Programming Grant for her “Under Connecticut Skies” project. The project is a historical exhibition on 100 years of astronomy at the University’s Van Vleck Observatory. She is planning for the exhibit to be installed in the Observatory library in the spring semester, with the official opening date to be May 6, 2016, National Space Day.
“Space Grant funds will pay for materials to construct the exhibit, and go toward funding students to assist us during the spring semester,” Williams wrote in an email to The Argus.
She aims to use the project to increase awareness on the history of astronomy.
“By interpreting the history of astronomy to a wider public, the exhibit will enhance the current public observing nights and other outreach programs that bring a thousand visitors to Van Vleck annually, and bring in new visitors to the observatory as well,” Williams wrote.
Working on the project has brought together many members of the University, as well as students in her Public History course this fall who have been doing the bulk of the exhibit planning.
“The exhibition, a companion website currently under development, and an ongoing oral history project that will extend into the coming year are the product of the Under Connecticut Skies project, a team of faculty, staff, students, and community partners who have been working together over the past year to research, document, and interpret the history of astronomy at Wesleyan and in Central Connecticut,” Williams wrote. “Students in my Public History course this fall (HIST 274) have been doing the bulk of the exhibit planning this semester.”
She is excited that many people of different backgrounds have been able to contribute to the project, and is excited that the grant can help with the implementation of the exhibit.
“It’s been incredibly exciting and rewarding to work with such a dedicated team, a group of people with so many different backgrounds who have come together to tell the story of Van Vleck Observatory,” Williams wrote.
The project previously earned a $15,000 grant from the Connecticut Humanities group in April.
Based on NASA funding, the grants were given to support research projects in Connecticut, with the mission of the Consortium to make Connecticut a national leader in NASA-related education, research, and workforce development.