Tag Archive for Meredith Hughes

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.