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.”