Thursday, December 4, 2014

URSP Student Chris Mazzullo Processes Images of Coronal Loops to Find the Velocity of the Material in Them

This semester I had the opportunity to research physics in the sun's corona through URSP. I applied last year because I thought that it would be an interesting way to apply some of the material that I was learning in class. Research also seemed like a way to set myself apart from other students when applying to jobs and graduate schools. What sealed the deal was meeting and talking with a professor, Art Poland, about the kind of work that I could do. He made the field of space weather and the physics of the magnetic loops in the sun's corona seem really interesting, so I ended up working on a space weather project this year.

My project was to process images of coronal loops to find the velocity of the material in them. The work was mostly independent programming of software to analyze the images. Generally I'm either implementing something that I think will be useful for analysis or something that I discussed with my mentor the week before. During this semester I met with my mentor twice a week to discuss progress and present any interesting findings. These meetings helped me understand some of the physics of the corona, which I never would have known anything about if I hadn't participated in URSP. A highlight of the semester was identifying a loop of Fe XV on the corona containing material speeding along at 30 meters per second, a high speed for such a hot loop. That's unusual and could be worth deeper investigation. I also overcame differences in formatting between different data sets that should give me the opportunity to work with data from the new IRIS satellite, a high resolution instrument which is revealing some stunning complexity on the corona.

The opportunity to do research this semester gave me a lot of valuable experience working with real-world problems. In my case it involved a lot of programming, which I now feel more confident about. I think that the experience will also be a big plus when applying to grad school. Working on a URSP project gave me an idea of what it would be like to work in physics or astronomy and I got to experience what researchers in these fields actually do on a daily basis.