Galactic reach

Mar 18th, 2014

Kelly Foss

Galactic reach

A second year joint physics and applied mathematics student will spend the summer researching astronomy at Yale.

Anna O’Grady, a resident of Kilbride, has been chosen to receive the Hoffleit Undergraduate Astronomy Research Scholarship, which will allow her to work as an intern for six weeks at the institution this summer.

“While I don’t have the specific details of the scope of the research, I do know I’ll be researching the Brightest Galaxy Clusters, analyzing data about ongoing star formation in the clusters,” she said. “I will be making maps of the age and mass of new stellar populations and potentially help with writing a paper that may end up in a research journal.”

Of the 70 international applicants for the scholarship, 20 of whom were from Oxford University, Ms. O’Grady was astonished to find out she had ranked first.

She said, “I still can't wrap my head around the fact that I'm going to an Ivy League university to do modern astronomy research with a great professor.

She believes she owes much of her current success to taking an interest in science early life.

“My three years at Bishops College High School further solidified my passion for science, through fantastic teachers and a great academic program which included participation in the annual regional science fairs,” said Ms. O’Grady.

Her physics teacher put her in contact with Dr. Robert Deupree, the Canada Research Chair in Astronomy and Astrophysics at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. Together they developed a project about the Hertzprung-Russell Diagram, a scatter graph of stars showing the relationship between the stars’ luminosities versus their effective temperatures.

“With that project I received the opportunity to go to the Canada Wide National Science Fair in Toronto and I had an amazing experience,” she said. “One of the awards I received was a scholarship the International Summer School for Young Physicists at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo.

“Those two weeks changed my life. I was always interested in science, particularly physics and astronomy, but that program made me certain that I wanted to pursue physics as a career.”

For the Grade 12 science fair, Dr. Deupree put Ms. O’Grady in touch with Dr. Louise Edwards who, at the time, worked at Mount Alison University, and they worked together on a project about dark matter.

“Once again I went to Nationals, this time in Charlottetown. It was another incredible experience, which only furthered my interest in physics,” she said. “I had kept up with Dr. Edwards, and she had taken a position at Yale last year. She told me about the Hoffleit scholarship and encouraged me to apply for it, which I did.”

Ms. O’Grady believes the scholarship opportunity will help her have a better understanding of the practical research aspect of a career in astronomy.

“These experiences during my undergraduate degree will definitely help me explore the different options I will have in graduate school and beyond,” she said. “I’m glad to have the opportunity to speak about my scholarship, because I believe it’s important to increase awareness of the importance of science, and to encourage other students to seek out experiences like this.”