2016 Research Projects

Research Projects by Subject

Note:
If a research project is listed as having openings for more than one SIP intern,
it should be assumed that the interns are expected to work collaboratively on the
same project and/or data set. This may preclude rising seniors
from submitting papers based on such projects to the Intel Science Talent Search competition.

 

Astronomy & Astrophysics

Title:
Surface Compositions of Red Giant Stars in Globular Clusters
Primary mentor: Marie Wingyee Lau
Faculty advisor: Prof. Graeme Smith
Location: UCSC Main Campus
Number of interns: 2

Project description:
Globular clusters are collections of 10^3 to 10^6 old stars in the Milky Way and other galaxies. Within a globular cluster, the stars have usually formed at the same time out of material in the same nebula, with rather small chemical composition variations across stars of similar luminosities. The mentors on this research project will study the chemical compositions of the surface of red giant stars in globular clusters. While some astronomers think that the small chemical composition variations across different red giants were already present in the material that the stars formed from, the mentors on this project contend the stars’ own evolution will also change the chemical compositions on their surfaces.

Tasks:
The SIP interns will download spectroscopic data of red giant stars of ten globular clusters. The interns will then study whether the oxygen and sodium abundances correlate with luminosities of the stars, which will be an evidence of stellar evolution effects. If the oxygen or sodium abundance seems to depend on luminosity, the interns will further quantify how strong the dependence is through running statistical tests.

Required skills for interns prior to acceptance: None
Skills intern(s) will acquire/hone: Computer programming; statistical data analysis

Program Week Number: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Mentor’s availability: ON ON ON ON ON ON ON ON ON ON

Title:
Galaxy Formation and Evolution: Comparing Supercomputer Simulations with Observations
Primary mentor: Christoph Lee
Faculty advisor: Prof. Joel Primack
Location: UCSC Main Campus
Number of interns: 2

Project description:
Recent observations by Hubble Space Telescope of galaxies in the process of formation compared with supercomputer simulations from the mentor’s research have revealed unexpected aspects of galaxy evolution. Astronomers used to think that galaxies start as disks, that merging disk galaxies make stellar spheroids, and that larger disks can then form around these spheroids – bulges at the centers of disk galaxies like our own Milky Way. Stellar spheroids without disks are called elliptical galaxies. The HST observations are showing that most galaxies start not as disks, but rather as elongated systems shaped like zucchinis or sausages.
Simulations from the mentor’s research show that these elongated galaxies are oriented along the dark matter filaments of the Cosmic Web. These simulations and the observations also show that most early star-forming galaxies have gigantic clumps of stars, hundreds or thousands of times more massive than the largest star-forming regions or globular clusters in the Milky Way or nearby galaxies, and that star-forming galaxies undergo “compaction” processes that make their centers so bright with new star formation that their visible size decreases. The mentor’s research group is running many new simulations and the SIP intern’s project will be to analyze the simulations and compare them with the observations both by HST and ground-based observatories such as Keck.

Tasks:
The SIP interns will do analyses of the mentor’s simulation outputs and compare them with astronomical observations. The interns will learn powerful computing and visualization tools, and will be welcome to use the UCSC Hyades astronomical supercomputer, a petabyte astro-data system, and the 3D AstroVisualization Lab.
Required skills for interns prior to acceptance: Computer programming
Skills intern(s) will acquire/hone: Computer programming; statistical data analysis; other

Program Week Number: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Mentor’s availability: ON ON ON ON ON ON ON ON ON ON

Title:
Large Scale Structure of the Universe
Primary mentor: Dr. Aldo Rodriguez
Faculty advisor: Prof. Joel Primack
Location: UCSC Main Campus
Number of interns: 2

Project description:
The mentor’s research group has run and analyzed some of the largest and highest resolution simulations of the large scale structure of the universe, based on the standard Lambda CDM cosmological theory with the Planck satellite team’s cosmological parameters. Their Bolshoi-Planck simulation is of a typical region of the universe that is a billion light years across, and their other simulations are even larger than that. The mentor’s research group has already published several papers on these simulations, but there are interesting features that can usefully be analyzed with the help of SIP interns.
One of the projects SIP interns will work on is to analyze how the dark matter halos that host galaxies are different in different regions of the cosmic web — the cosmic voids, sheets, filaments, and nodes. Although most galaxies lie in cosmic filaments, the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies appear to lie in the middle of a cosmic sheet, providing an opportunity to see the properties of galaxy-hosting dark matter halos that lie in such cosmic sheets.  For example, the disk of the Milky Way galaxy is perpendicular to the cosmic sheet, and many of the satellite galaxies around the Milky Way and Andromeda lie in our cosmic sheet. The goal of this project is to see how often this pattern occurs in the mentor’s large simulations.

Tasks:
The SIP interns will do analyses of the mentor’s simulation outputs and will compare them with astronomical observations. The interns will learn powerful computing and visualization tools, and will be welcome to use the UCSC Hyades astronomical supercomputer, a petabyte astro-data system, and the 3D AstroVisualization Lab.

Required skills for interns prior to acceptance: Computer programming
Skills intern(s) will acquire/hone: Computer programming; statistical data analysis

Program Week Number: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Mentor’s availability: ON ON ON ON ON ON ON ON ON O

Title:
What Happens Around Supermassive Black Holes
Primary mentor: Dr. Martin Gaskell
Location: UCSC Main Campus
Number of interns: 3

Project description:
Astronomers now believe that every large galaxy contains a supermassive black hole in its center. Because of the tremendous energy released as the black hole grows by swallowing gas, these black holes can be readily detected as so-called “active galactic nuclei” (AGNs) back to very early times in the Universe. The details of how supermassive black holes form and grow and how this is related to the formation of normal galaxies is one of the central mysteries of contemporary astrophysics. The mentor’s research group is analyzing spectra and spectral variability to try to understand how AGNs produce the intense radiation seen, what the structure of material around the black hole is like, and how supermassive black holes grow.

Tasks:
SIP intern involvement in the project will consist of analyzing multi-wavelength spectral observations of relatively nearby actively accreting supermassive black holes to try to understand the emissions and how the black holes grow. This work will involve compiling data sets, applying corrections, making statistical estimates of parameters, and comparing the results with theoretical models of processes going on around black holes.

Required skills for interns prior to acceptance: Computer programming
Skills intern(s) will acquire/hone: Computer programming; statistical data analysis

Program Week Number: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Mentor’s availability: ON ON ON ON ON ON ON ON ON ON

Title:
Studying Orphan Globular Clusters in the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies
Primary mentor: Dr. Elisa Toloba
Faculty advisor: Prof. Raja GuhaThakurta
Location: Remote Project
Number of interns: 2

Project description:
The goal of this project is to learn about the spatial distribution, kinematics, chemical composition, and mean stellar age of globular clusters (GCs; small groups of stars that orbit