31 search results for "meredith hughes, assistant professor of "

Hughes, Colleagues Investigate “Planetary Construction Site”

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, works with students on a small radio telescope, located on the roof of the Van Vleck Observatory.

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, works with students on a small radio telescope, located on the roof of the Van Vleck Observatory.

A curious mix of dust and gas surrounding a distant star presents a unique mystery – and possibly a front-row seat to planet formation, according to Assistant Professor of Astronomy Meredith Hughes and colleagues, whose paper on the star appears in the March 6 edition of the journal Science.

The group of astronomers, including Hughes and 13 others, were the first to identify the asymmetry and “lumpy” quality of the gas surrounding beta Pictoris, using data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. The discovery leads to two possible explanations: There may be a giant “exoplanet”  lurking nearby (forcing clumps of carbon dioxide to orbit the star on opposite sides) or there has recently been a collision between two Mars-sized bodies. More data must be analyzed to figure out which event happened.

“We actually already knew that there was gas around this star, but we didn’t know how much, or that the gas would be lumpy and asymmetric – the asymmetry is another indication that the gas was probably generated by a recent collision,” explained Hughes.

Beta Pictoris, which is actually a stellar neighbor of Earth, about 60 light years away, is in an active place for planet formation, Hughes said. And the evidence discussed in the Science paper points toward very recent (on astronomical timescales – in this case probably thousands of years) events.

Astronomy Students Speak at KNAC Research Symposium

Wesleyan astronomy students traveled to Vassar College Oct. 26-27 for the 24th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium sponsored by the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium.  KNAC is a group of eight colleges in New Jersey, New York and New England that have collaborated for decades to bring enhanced summer research opportunities to their students. Pictured are the 85 students and faculty who attended the conference.

Wesleyan astronomy students traveled to Vassar College Oct. 26-27 for the 24th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium sponsored by the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium. KNAC is a group of eight colleges in New Jersey, New York and New England that have collaborated for decades to bring enhanced summer research opportunities to their students. Pictured are the 85 students and faculty who attended the conference.

Students Construct Radio Telescope for Astronomy Department

Astronomy students and faculty celebrated the new small radio telescope (SRT) on May 1 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The SRT has a motorized arm that can position the dish to face any part of the sky.  Quasars, pulsars, and the afterglow of the Big Bang have all been discoveries of radio astronomy.

Astronomy students and faculty celebrated the new small radio telescope (SRT) on May 1 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The SRT has a motorized arm that can position the dish to face any part of the sky. Quasars, pulsars, and the afterglow of the Big Bang have all been discoveries of radio astronomy.

(Story contributed by Jim Smith)

When graduate student Amy Steele settled into her seat the first day of an upper-level Radio Astronomy course last January she was anticipating a rigorous four-month exploration of the discipline. The instructor, Meredith Hughes, who had just joined the Astronomy Department as an assistant professor, came with strong credentials in radio astronomy.

Steele was excited. After completing her undergraduate work at Williams College, she had taken four years off to work as the astronomy lab supervisor at the University of Texas at Arlington. Last fall she enrolled as a graduate student at Wesleyan.

Classmates, with the help of Astronomy Department faculty, used the new device to detect the sun.

Classmates, with the help of Astronomy Department faculty, used the new device to detect the sun.

“Radio astronomy is super powerful,” she said, “and it’s a very rewarding area to work in. It offers the potential for many discoveries in years to come.”

What neither Steele nor any of her fellow students was expecting was the opportunity to actually construct a radio telescope. But that was the task Hughes laid out for them after she had reviewed the course syllabus. Following design specifications for a small radio telescope (SRT) developed by Alan Rogers at MIT’s Haystack Observatory, the students would not only create a functional radio telescope, they would do so by the end of the semester.

The project was made all the more challenging by the fact that there was no kit for the device. “Haystack used to sell SRT kits,” Hughes explained. “Dozens of them were built and many are still in use. But as electronics improved, the original kits became obsolete. Just last summer Alan Rogers retooled the telescope design and they decided to stop producing kits and just publish the plans.

“Working from plans enhances the value of the learning experience,” she adds. “While many of the components are commercially produced, some parts have to be fabricated or assembled.  For example, the main light-gathering component is a piece of copper tape wrapped around a foam rod, bolted inside a metal cake pan. It’s both challenging and fun for students.”

Hughes divided her class into three teams, each of which was responsible for a different part of the telescope. Each team would work separately, acquiring and assembling the components for its part of the telescope, but they would also interact.

Hughes Studies Formation, Evolution of Planetary Systems

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, works with students on a small radio telescope, located on the roof of the Van Vleck Observatory.

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, works with students on a small radio telescope, located on the roof of the Van Vleck Observatory.

(Contributed by Jim Smith)

Meredith Hughes was one of those kids drawn to science and nature. But growing up in small-town Rhode Island, she didn’t know any scientists.

“The people I knew who liked science were teachers and doctors,” recalled Hughes, a new assistant professor of astronomy at Wesleyan this year. “So I figured that’s probably what I’d be.”

Then, during her junior year of high school, a patient of her mother, a women’s health nurse practitioner, recommended a program for budding scientists called The Summer Science Program (SSP). Hughes applied, and became one of 25 students from around the world to spend the summer under the pristine skies of Ojai, California. “We spent the summer determining the orbit of 4 Vesta, the second largest object in the Asteroid Belt,” she said. “It was my first exposure to professional scientists and real research, and by the time the summer was over I had begun to think that maybe a career in science wasn’t such a crazy idea.”

Little more than a year later, she was enrolled at Yale. Despite the inroads into astrophysics she had made at SSP, she embraced the philosophy of a liberal arts education and spent her freshman year avoiding astronomy and instead exploring fields as diverse as cognitive science and music theory. During the summer  she had an opportunity to stay in New Haven and do astronomical research with Professor Meg Urry, director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. Hughes found it exhilarating to apply the physics she had learned in the classroom to investigating the properties of the supermassive black holes at the centers of distant galaxies.

“After that summer, I was hooked,” she said. She went on to complete A.M.  and Ph.D. degrees in astronomy at Harvard in 2007 and 2010, earning the department’s Fireman Fellowship for an outstanding Ph.D. thesis in the field of experimental astrophysics.

After Harvard, she accepted a postdoctoral fellowship with the Miller Institute at the University of California-Berkeley. Former Miller Fellows have included Nobel laureates and Fields medalists, but Hughes says she was most excited to follow in the footsteps of former Miller Fellow Carl Sagan. “His career was exemplary in combining a deep understanding of research with an incredible gift at communicating his knowledge and passion to non-scientists, which is a combination I strive to emulate,” Hughes said. She was at Berkeley when she learned about the opening at Wesleyan that offered what she said was “exactly the balance of teaching and research I was looking for.”

New Radio Telescope to Benefit Astronomy Research

A new telescope at Van Vleck Observatory saw its first light on May 1. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by staff and students of the Astronomy Department and the Science Machine Shop.

Astronomy students and faculty celebrated the completion of a new small radio telescope (SRT) on May 1 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. This is Wesleyan’s first radio telescope, joining three optical telescopes housed at the Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.

Radio telescopes are highly complementary to optical telescopes. Able to see through cloud cover, they are not limited by weather. Also, in a "radio sky," the remnants of exploding stars and distant supermassive black holes shine brightly.

Radio telescopes are highly complementary to optical telescopes. Able to see through cloud cover, they are not limited by weather. Also, in a “radio sky,” the remnants of exploding stars and distant supermassive black holes shine brightly.

Going forward it will allow Wesleyan students to detect more remote radio sources, map galactic rotation and conduct other kinds of astronomical research. It will be an essential tool in the university’s astronomy courses.

This fall, the SRT will allow Wesleyan students and faculty to detect remote radio sources, map galactic rotation and conduct other kinds of astronomical research. It will be an essential tool in the university’s astronomy courses.

Astronomy students and faculty celebrated the new small radio telescope (SRT) on May 1 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The SRT has a motorized arm that can position the dish to face any part of the sky. Quasars, pulsars, and the afterglow of the Big Bang have all been discoveries of radio astronomy.

The SRT has a motorized arm that can position the dish to face any part of the sky. Quasars, pulsars, and the afterglow of the Big Bang have all been discoveries of radio astronomy.

Students enrolled in Assistant Professor Meredith Hughes' Radio Astronomy Class created the functional radio telescope in one semester. They followed design specifications for a small radio telescope developed by Alan Rogers at MIT’s Haystack Observatory.

Students enrolled in Assistant Professor Meredith Hughes’ Radio Astronomy Class created the functional radio telescope in one semester. They followed design specifications for a small radio telescope developed by Alan Rogers at MIT’s Haystack Observatory. Wesleyan is the first university to assemble a SRT from upgraded system plans published by Haystack.

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, divided her class into three teams, each of which was responsible for a different part of the telescope. Each team would work separately, acquiring and assembling the components for its part of the telescope.

Hughes, pictured directing the satellite through a computer, divided her class into three teams. Each team was responsible for acquiring and assembling the components for different sections of the telescope.

Of the 10 astronomers who have received Nobel prizes in astronomy, six used radio telescopes in their research.

Of the 10 astronomers who have received Nobel prizes in astronomy, six used radio telescopes in their research.

Classmates, with the help of Astronomy Department faculty, used the new device to detect the sun.

Classmates, with the help of Astronomy Department faculty, used the new device to detect the sun during a “First Light” celebration.