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Making Connections Through Astronomy

Posted on Thursday, February 20, 2014

Assistant Professor of Physics Leslie Hebb's recent scholarly efforts have established several new connections for the Colleges in the field of astronomy.

During the fall semester, Hebb was inducted as an associate member of the Astronomical Society of New York, a state-wide association that brings together universities, colleges and observatories around astronomy interests. Her induction took place at Union College where the society's fall 2013 meeting was held.

"The Astronomical Society of New York was happy to welcome more institutions from our region to join the society," Hebb says. "HWS is now represented and included in a way in which it previously was not."

At the meeting, Hebb presented, "Mapping Starspots on Transiting Planet Host Stars," which was a discussion of her latest research that explores magnetic fields of low-mass stars.

The topic of Hebb's presentation coincides with a three-year research project she is working on thanks to a recently awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. Hebb is the principal investigator of the project, "Collaborative Research: Mapping small and large scale magnetic fields on low mass stars," which is being conducted in conjunction with University of Washington. Hebb also was recently awarded grant funding from the NSF for computer hardware in light of an ongoing research collaboration with astrophysicists at Vanderbilt University.

Hebb says it's important for scientists at small undergraduate colleges to collaborate on projects with larger research universities for several reasons, including connections to major research universities, involvement of graduate students and post-doctoral scholars who are highly trained, and providing unique opportunities for undergraduate student participation.

"For our students that want to be scientists or have an interest in science, I want to make sure they have the best training possible and leave HWS prepared," says Hebb. "I want them to know what it is really going to be like. It's tremendously exciting and rewarding to be a scientist, but also a tremendous amount of work."

In addition to the NSF research efforts and the induction to the Astronomical Society of New York, Hebb's collaborative work has also helped to establish the HWS connection to the Astronomical Research Consortium (ARC).

The Astronomical Research Consortium consists of a group of universities that owns and operates several telescopes located at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. The observatory is the site of the telescope used for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, an innovative large-scale astronomy project that has obtained images of galaxies and quasars over more than 1/4 of the sky to create a 3-dimensional map of the universe.

HWS was invited to join the consortium with other small colleges and universities as a "collective," full member. The institutions include: Colgate University, Bucknell University, Haverford College, Middlebury College, and Wesleyan University.  "We've pooled our resources to become ‘one member,'" Hebb says. "We are collaborating with these peer institutions - liberal arts colleges - to join ARC so that we can have access to the telescopes in New Mexico."

Hebb says access to the observatory - even remotely from a computer - is a significant opportunity. Anyone who is a member of the consortium can propose to do research with the telescopes, she says.

"Eventually students in astronomy classes at HWS will be able to use the telescopes remotely," Hebb says. "They can investigate binary stars. Take data and process it here. It's really exciting and the association with larger research universities is really important for students as well. If I take students to Apache Point Observatory, they can connect with scientists at other institutions who may also be using the telescopes."

Hebb joined the HWS faculty in 2012. She received a B.S. in electrical engineering from University of Denver, and her M.S. and Ph.D. in astrophysics from Johns Hopkins University. Hebb also conducted post-doctoral research at University of St. Andrews and at Vanderbilt University. She has served as visiting faculty at University of Washington.

 


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