Tuesday, March 08, 2011

GET INVOLVED in the AGN-LAIR: memoirs of a biology major doing astronomy research

As the title has it, here are some thoughts about getting involved in research work, albeit of astrophysical nature. Need some help deciding in what kind of research you could chose for your credit, training, or spirit? Read along Greg Minutillo's little story:

Fellow science duke dogs! I wanted to talk about the amazing opportunities over on the east side of campus, and those available through Dr. Constantin in particular. I worked in her lab last year, in 2010. I was the only bio major in our lab, and at first it was quite intimidating. I was surrounded by physics majors! In fact, one of the lab members was my tutor for Physics 240. I met Dr. Constantin through him, and she said she needed help with her research. As a transfer, I had lacked research on my transcript and jumped at the chance to do it. It was a great decision. She gave me tasks within my capabilities, and I learned some physics as well. Some of the things I learned even complemented my learning in Physics 250, especially when the lab members would talk about energy emissions. These emissions revealed the type of matter rotating around black holes. It was a nice change to talk about something other than cells and bacteria.

I created a database that combined X-ray data, and optical imaging for about 600 galaxies. Both types of information are usually not compiled together, and thus astronomers have to look up the information individually. Now, there is a unique group of galaxies with both types of data available. I also had to classify each galaxy based on its morphology. This type of information is very important to astronomers. Once I learned how to do that, I was good to go! I even presented all my work at the physics symposium at the end of the year. As a bio major applying to medical school, I think it looks very unique to see research and involvement in a discipline like physics.

Not only was Dr. Constantin accommodating me when I needed help with her research tasks, but she helped me on any math/physics class I was taking at the time. I was enrolled in calculus over “Maymester” when I was continuing my research, and I was struggling to say the least. The pace was incredibly quick. I almost dropped the class and took it at a community college, but Dr. Constantin actually worked with me and found some of my problems. Keep in mind she had no obligation to do such a thing. I had a great experience in the lab, and would advise anyone in the sciences to look into joining it if they’re looking to get involved.

Greg has the medical profession as his carrier goal. He is currently applying to a post-bac program to strengthen himself as a candidate for medical school. He promised to keep us posted with news.