||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
Differential Tuition Dollars Assist
MAILED: Jan. 5, 1998|
EAU CLAIRE -- When Anna Kindt came to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, she hoped she'd have opportunities not available in her native Germany. But she never dreamed she'd work side-by-side with an astronomer while still an undergraduate student.
"This is the best job I've ever had," Kindt, a sophomore math and physics major, said of her collaborative research with Dr. Lauren Likkel, assistant professor of physics and astronomy. "I'm learning a lot and doing stuff that will be useful to me in graduate school and beyond."
Kindt, who learned of UW-Eau Claire while a high school exchange student, has her dream research job -- which she started in the summer and continued during the academic year -- thanks to differential tuition. Likkel's proposal was among the approximate 150 faculty/student collaborative projects funded by differential tuition this year. Kindt is among some 320 students who are participating in research and/or travel to present their findings this year thanks to the funds, raised via a $50-per-semester tuition increase.
UW-Eau Claire will use the approximately $1 million annually to meet special costs associated with continuing to implement the recently revised baccalaureate degree. The only plan of its kind in the UW System, this is the first year differential tuition has been in place.
In 1997-98, some $350,000 -- or 38 percent of the differential tuition -- will go toward faculty/student collaborative research. Remaining dollars are earmarked to support capstone courses, staffing the first-year experience and seminar, improving and increasing internships and other practical experiences, supporting service learning activities.
Kindt, who plans to study astronomy in graduate school, is working with Likkel in her investigation of planetary nebulae -- formed when a low-mass red giant star ejects its outer atmosphere. Kindt has worked on data reduction, which refers to the correction of data for known effects, such as those of the detector and the Earth's atmosphere.
"Because the key to understanding how the universe formed is to determine what the composition of the universe was after the Big Bang, it's essential to know the composition of the universe now and how it's changed," said Likkel, who joined UW-Eau Claire's faculty in 1996.
When a star ends its life, a large amount of material is returned to the interstellar medium (atoms, gas and dust grains not bound in stars) from which it was born -- but the ejected material changes in composition due to nuclear processing at the core of the star. Thus, the composition of the universe is best measured by studying the interstellar medium, she said.
Likkel's research focuses on studying stars at the later stages of their lives. In 4 or 5 billion years, the sun -- our nearest star -- will change, she said, noting it's now half way through its expected life span. "It'll swell up and become a giant red star," she said. "The red giant eventually produces a planetary nubulae."
"I love it," Kindt said of the research. "I love everything about astronomy but I've never done any real astronomy before. Ever since I was a kid, this is what I've wanted to do. I've always loved the stars and science fiction and science. I came here because I thought there would be opportunities I wouldn't have in Germany. But I never thought I'd do this kind of work now."
Likkel remembers being excited as an undergraduate when she used a lab, even though it didn't involve research. That memory, combined with her belief that hands-on work helps students develop problem-solving and organizational skills, has made her determined to provide students such as Kindt with meaningful research opportunities, Likkel said.
As a result, Likkel said UW-Eau Claire is the perfect school for her -- a professor who wants to teach and do research and be appreciated for doing both well.
"Science is cool because you don't just learn what someone else already knows," Likkel said. "You learn and discover new things. Of all the sciences, physics is the most basic and astronomy is the most interesting area of physics. In astronomy, you see things you can't touch on earth and that's exciting."
The general public's awareness of and interest in astronomy has increased in recent years as things like the Hubble Space Telescope have brought images from space into people's homes, Likkel said.
"The ultimate question is where did the universe come from and where is it going," she said. "Astronomy is the only field that answers those questions."
While working at an observatory in Hawaii after college, Likkel "saw real astronomers with real jobs." It was then, she said, that she realized that astronomy was a viable career option.
That, she said, is a message she tries to pass on to students such as Kindt. "If you're interested in something, it's worth pursuing."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Jan. 5, 1998