Sunday, April 10, 2011

One of Our JMU Undergrad Astronomers at NCUR 2011

At this year's National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR), JMU's Physics and Astronomy research was represented by Nathan DiDomenico (a sophomore!), who presented his work on "The Spectral Properties of Galaxies with Water Maser Emission." In Nathan's own words, here are some thoughts about this event:

Last week I was in Ithaca New York for the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR) held at Ithaca College. The conference was fun and interesting. Being able to get out of class for a few days and getting to know other students who are doing research at JMU was definitely a plus. NCUR is a conference for students involved in all areas of research so I was able to see thought provoking presentations from many different fields. We left JMU Wednesday in the early morning and 8 hours later we were in Ithaca New York.

There were really two parts to the conference, the oral presentations that were held in several of the university’s lecture halls, and the poster presentations held in the school’s gym.

Both types of presentations were interesting to go to. At the poster sessions I was able to browse through a number of interesting presentations and discuss them with the student conducting that research; discussions were informal and thus provided good opportunities to get exposed to a broad sample of research conducted by students all around the nation. The oral presentations consisted in fifteen minutes talks plus five minutes after the talk set aside for questions; I think many of them were very well prepared.

I personally presented a poster, my first on the work I conducted so far on the properties of galaxies that host megamasers. Megamasers in disk configurations (in active galactic nuclei) give us the vital ability to get accurate distance measurements to very distant galaxies. Because of this, it is essential that we locate a much larger sample of these megamaser disks to constrain the Hubble constant; knowing the host properties of the galaxies that have masers is key to finding more of these megamasers disks. I have compiled optical data for the largest sample of galaxies hosting masers and classified them via their optical emission lines. I was able to present my research to a number of interested students as well as scientists who had come to the conference.

I would suggest that any wise college student adheres to the fooling creed: “work hard play hard”. The group of 11 JMU students (as well as the faculty chaperones) I went to NCUR with was no exception. When we were not presenting our research or learning of about others’ research we wasted no time in goofing around. The first night we were there we conquered the pizzas from “Northeast Pizza and Beer” (that place gives new meaning the words “large pizza”), and then to our delight discovered that it was karaoke night. We couldn’t deny the crowd the sound of our voices, so we sang a few classics (I think we had a pretty sizeable fan base before we left). In the evenings we typically agreed on a place to eat and joked with each other into the night. The group was able to bond quickly and overall everyone seemed to enjoy each other’s company; this made the trip just as entertaining as it was educational.

My bottom line: undergraduates involved in research should try not to miss the opportunity to participate to an NCUR.

-Nathan DiDomenico

Here is Nathan enthusiastically explaining his findings to a good crowd of undergraduate science sponges.... aaah, students.

In case you need more reasons to be jealous of the good time NCUR students could generally have, added here is also a little (rather poorly in quality) movie caught by one of the two faculty chaperones during one of the impressively well organized lunches.