URSS Diaries #1 – OurWarwick

URSS Diaries #1

The (Undergraduate Research Support Scheme) is an excellent scheme here at Warwick that provides support for undergrads wishing to undertake a summer project. I am considering going into research after my degree so I thought doing a summer project would be the perfect opportunity to see whether I enjoyed doing my own research as well as learning lots of new skills!

Since the area of astrophysics is how I originally became interested in physics, I knew I wanted to do a project in the . I approached my current supervisor back in Term 1, and after hearing about the project he was running decided that that was the one I was interested in completing.

The great thing about the URSS is that you can apply for a to help cover the costs of accommodation/travel/etc while you are doing your research. Both my supervisor and I had to submit an application form, and although not all applications are approved, fortuitously mine was! This means I have some money to pay for on-campus accommodation for the duration of my project, as well as for other living expenses.

Alongside doing research, as part of the URSS participants must also submit an abstract and academic poster and complete a reflective log on the Moodle page. The Moodle also includes some short activities to encourage participants to reflect on their journey and help track their progress.

I started my project last week and I am thoroughly enjoying it so far! I have been introduced to techniques and programmes that I have never encountered before and have learnt so much in a short time.

? (I’ll do my best to limit the use of technical language here so its easily understandable; this is a good exercise in developing communication skills!) My project builds on an academic paper my supervisor published a couple of years ago on a triple star system. Unsurprisingly, this system consists of three stars; two stars (a binary) orbiting each other roughly every 6 hours, and a third star orbiting the binary about every 204 days. Such systems have been studied previously, and since orbiting stars are governed by well-understood physical laws they can be modelled and the masses/radii of the stars can be determined. However, when this was attempted for this particular system, precise values for these parameters couldn’t be determined without disobeying a fundamental law! This is not ideal, and so my job this summer is to try and figure out how this system behaves so we can model it.

We can detect these stars by analysing how the light we receive changes as the three stars overlap each other in our line of sight (eclipse each other). Since the paper was written, there has been another event when all three stars are eclipsing each other, and I have been processing this data to produce light curves showing the reduction in light when one star passes over the other. Last week, I analysed over one thousand photographs of the stars, and by running the photos through various pieces of code and programmes managed to produce a rather lovely looking ‘dip’, which we think shows the binary passing in front of the third star. I still have some more data to process before I move on to running the processed data through another model to really try and get to grips with the star system!

It is very exciting work, and since I am using a computer all day I feel like my programming skills are improving rapidly. I can’t wait to see what I achieve as my project progresses!

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