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PHOTO: Cody Jessup ’16 and senior Daniel Halmrast stand with their posters explaining their research on pulsars at the Inter­na­tional Pulsar Timing Array con­ference in South Africa. (Timothy Dolch/Courtesy)

Hillsdale College LAUREATES scholars pre­sented their research before physi­cists from around the globe in Stel­len­bosch, South Africa, this summer.

After receiving funds from the North American Nanohertz Obser­vatory for Grav­i­ta­tional Waves because of their research, senior Daniel Halmrast and Cody Jessup ’16 pre­sented their data on pulsar timing at the Inter­na­tional Pulsar Timing Array con­ference that will be used in future projects.

“We had a little freak out party for five minutes, and then we got serious because now we had an accel­erated timeline,” Halmrast said when he learned about the trip. “I was working 10 – 12 hours a day, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It was a great sense of accom­plishment, wrapping up six weeks of research into one poster.”

Pulsars are rem­nants of exploded stars used to detect objects and activity in space from the inter­stellar medium, the matter between star systems, to merging galaxies.

The stu­dents, both members of Hillsdale’s Lab­o­ratory for Advanced Under­graduate Research Edu­cation Adapted for Tal­ented and Extra­or­dinary Stu­dents Program, used the reg­u­larity of pulsars’ radio emis­sions to track anom­alies in pulsar emis­sions caused by grav­i­ta­tional waves and the inter­stellar medium.

Halmrast studied an eight-hour recording of pulsar emis­sions, to set an upper limit on the strength of grav­i­ta­tional waves.

Mean­while, Jessup observed data col­lected from a giant tele­scope at the Arecibo Obser­vatory in Puerto Rico. “James Bond” fans might rec­ognize it from the movie “Gold­eneye.” Jessup used the infor­mation to look for the scat­tering of pulsar emis­sions by the inter­stellar medium.

After lis­tening to a week of lec­tures, each student pre­sented his poster to a room full of the world’s leading researchers.

“I was very excited to give a pre­sen­tation,” Jessup said. “You know if you make a mistake, they’re going to know. But that’s the point of the process — I’m a student trying to learn from the experts.”

The IPTA con­ference met at a landmark time in radio astronomy, in a city 10 hours away from the con­struction of the Square Kilo­metre Array radio tele­scope. Assistant Pro­fessor of Physics Timothy Dolch, who went with Halmrast and Jessup to South Africa, esti­mated the tele­scope will eclipse the 2,500 known pulsars by detecting 20,000 pulsars.

“It’s game changing,” Dolch said. “More than 400 years ago, Galileo pointed a tele­scope at the night sky, and it was like getting a new pair of eyes. This tele­scope is like getting a new pair of eyes. It is the birth of a new area in astronomy where you can make a map of this invisible sky.”

But in order to map these radio emis­sions, the con­ference is con­sol­i­dating researchers’ data, including that from both Jessup’s and Halmrast’s pre­sen­ta­tions.

“These are the people who write the text­books on the subject, and that’s their audience,” Dolch said. “They both did really well. They were very con­fident, very clear. I was beaming.”