Research Overview

My current research involves using observational methods in astrophysics to study the evolution of planetary systems. See below for details on current and past projects.

Current Work


Debris Disks

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sc1Il-Pb9Q

The planets in our solar system formed from material that was leftover from the formation of the Sun. That material accumulated in a circumsolar disk, eventually coalescing into the planets we have now. Not all the material went into planet formation and so that leftover material formed the current asteroid and kuiper belt. The interaction of the planets and the rocky belts can create collisions and release dust. This dust belt is seen as the Zodiacal cloud is linked to the interaction of the planets and rocky bodies in our solar system. Such second generation dust belts are known as "DEBRIS DISKS." The animation on the left shows this interaction very nicely.


We see similar events around other stars. The dust released into the system can be observed directly around the star (e.g., Fomalhaut). We can also detect the dust when it re-emits some of the star's own light at longer infrared wavelengths. This makes the star seem brighter than it really is and it tells us that dust may exist in around these stars.

By finding a large number of these debris disk systems at different stages in their evolution, we can try to determine how the dust evolves and how it might be linked to the evolution of the underlying planetary system as a whole!

Exoplanet Detection

http://xkcd.com/1071/

The field of exoplanetology -- planets outside our solar system, is an excellent example of a nascent and burgeoning field of astrophysics. The discovery of planets outside our solar system was groundbreaking and exciting to say the least! But as the number of discoveries grew (~800 now -- and still counting!) we found that most of these systems looked nothing like our own solar system!

Check out this sweet animation of Kepler planet candidates.

One of the projects I am currently involved in is the detection of new EXOPLANETS. Specifically, I am involved in a DIRECT IMAGING survey at the PALOMAR OBSERVATORY to find new Jupiter sized planets around young nearby stars. Imagine trying to find a fly around a large stadium flood lamp -- 4 km away -- while looking through a glass cup filled with water (the fly would be the planet, the flood lamp is a bright star, and the cup filled with water would be the atmosphere blurring the light). Yes, it's that difficult --and then some.

Check out this VIDEO to see how Astronomers use Adaptive Optics to reduce the blurring effects of the atmosphere.

PAST PROJECTS


Dust Tracking in Fusion Reactors!

One of my senior undergraduate projects -- working under Dr. Werner Boeglin at Florida International University -- dealt with developing software tools to track dust particles in a TOKAMAK (Fusion Reactor). In order to produce sustained FUSION REACTIONS, the energy generated needs to go into the fusile particles. Small dust particles floating around in the TOKAMAk can disrupt the plasma field lines and carry energy away from the reaction, essentially breaking the chain and destroying the Fusion process. If you can understand the behavior of these particles, you can try to negate their effects with the aim of producing a longer sustained reaction.

Check out the beautiful colors that FUSION reactions bring us in this VIDEO from NSTX

I aided Dr. Boeglin in developing some of the necessary scripts in Python as well as obtaining visual data with which to test the code at the NSTX TOKAMAK at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab from 2008-2009. This research was also part of my McNair Fellowship project at FIU. The following documents are available in reference to this work:

  • McNair POSTER on Dust Tracking in NSTX
  • Refereed PAPER on data taken from a fast camera inside a fusion reactor

 

Lattice Quantum Chromodynamics

One of my first senior undergraduate projects -- under Dr. Rajamani Narayanan at FIU -- invovled calculating the mass of a subatomic particle (ρ - meson) using Quantum Chromodynamic (QCD) theory on a lattice in N dimensional space. QCD explains the behavior of quarks and gluons -- the fundamental particles which make up composite particles. Usually, the mass of the composite particle (in this case the ρ-meson) is composed of the mass of the quark and the gluons. The gluons act like the communication line between the quarks, but they also contribute to the particle's total mass. So what would happen if the mass of the quarks were taken to zero? This question was what we tried to find out.

I presented this work, along with my fellow student Carlos Prays, at the Honors College SRAI conference and was conducted as part of my senior undergraduate thesis project. The following documents are available in reference to this work:

Last updated: 1/2015