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||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
Faculty, Student Team |
MAILED: August 2, 1999|
For more than two years, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior Anna Kindt has been doing collaborative research on planetary nebulae with Lauren Likkel.
It's unusual to have the same student work with you for more than a semester or year, said Likkel, assistant professor of physics and astronomy.
"But having a long-term student has been beneficial because more has gotten accomplished," she said. "The research also benefits Anna, who plans to study astronomy in graduate school."
Likkel and Kindt have been studying planetary nebulae and trying to detect emission from hydrogen molecules.
"If we detect hydrogen molecules, we hope to find more than one emission line so we can get an intensity ratio, which will tell us how the molecule got its energy," Likkel said. "We're hoping to find out the energy came from shock wave excitation because we're trying to prove that, yes, shock waves are out there."
The ultimate goal of the project is to find out how much material is in the planetary nebulae, Likkel said. "How bright the light from a molecule is depends on two things: how many molecules there are and what excited those molecules.
"Once you know there are shock waves involved, you can figure out by calculation how many molecules there are."
One of the main reasons Kindt has been working on the project for more than two years is because of the software program involved in reducing the data.
"The first summer I started on this project, Dr. Likkel and I worked 40 hours a week during the summer to learn the new computer program," Kindt said.
Likkel said it takes a person six months to really get good at the program that reduces the data, and having to train a new student every six months would get the research nowhere.
"Plus, with Anna working for over two years, she's been able to be involved with all aspects of the project," Likkel said. "She's been able to go to the observatory so she's been there when the data was taken. She's operated the telescope, dealt with the equipment, made the observations and then gone back and reduced the data."
In total, Likkel and Kindt have been to the observatory three times.
"Every time we go to collect data, we go to the McDonald Observatory, which is operated by the University of Texas at Austin," Kindt said. "We want to use the same instruments and same telescope so the reliability of our data is increased."
The reason Likkel and Kindt have access to the University of Texas at Austin and its equipment is because two of its astronomers also are collaborators on the project.
"One of the astronomers from the University of Texas at Austin was awarded a grant for the project and asked if I wanted to be involved," said Likkel, adding the grant has paid about half of their travel costs and UW-Eau Claire has paid the rest. "It's nice to work with them because one of the astronomers is an expert in the area we're researching, plus we can get access to their telescope."
For their trips to Texas, the researchers have selected four main nebulae to observe.
"We choose which nebulae to observe by the ones that still have lots of molecules in them," said Likkel, explaining the young ones have more molecules.
While in Texas, the researchers sleep days so they can collect data at night.
"After dinner we prepare the instruments, fill the cryogenic dewer with liquid nitrogen and get the software ready," Kindt said. "We usually observe one or two objects a night and just keep taking data over and over until 6 a.m."
For Kindt, doing these hands-on activities is the best part of being involved in research such as this.
"A lot of undergrads don't get this experience," Kindt said.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: August 2, 1999