Saturday, June 19, 2021

TAURUS 2021 Launch! Happy Juneteenth!!

It's been a LONNNNGG time since the last piece on the TAURUS blog, and so we're happy to start off a new summer and new year with a bang, celebrating this fantastic group of scholars on the first federally-recognized JUNETEENTH! The 2021 TAURUS Scholars are here, in person in Austin, and are already two weeks into their summer research projects.  Here's a photo of them all together in the PMA building!

The last post to this blog was just as we were wrapping up the 2019 program.  Little did we know we'd wait over a year to welcome the next class of TAURUS Scholars, due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.  COVID has been hard for everyone, but the impact on our undergraduate students is unique.  Four (or five, or six) years isn't very long to launch from high school at one end to college graduation on the other, dreaming about your long-term plans and career goals. COVID took out 1.5 years of really important time for this generation of students.  TAURUS made the difficult decision last spring to call off the 2020 program, because we just knew that conducting research remotely just wasn't the same as our in person program.  One of the primary goals of TAURUS is community building.  The bonds you make with other scholars, your mentors, and other connections just can't be reproduced over zoom.  So we postponed, crossing our fingers all year long that we could return in person for 2021.

Miraculously we're here, and we are so grateful for that.  Our 2020 class of TAURUS Scholars waited a long time to meet each other and start their projects; they were joined by several additional 2021 TAURUS Scholars to form the 2021 class -- our fifth cohort of TAURUS Scholars and the biggest group yet!

The road to an in-person program has been long and challenging, and this year's scholars are still faced with additional hurdles unique to their year -- they had to quarantine for a week in the residence halls and start the program on zoom, get a COVID PCR test on campus, and they have limited access to the kitchen due to safety restrictions (grr, we're working on it!).  On top of that they get to learn python, astrophysics, and how to work toward their own research goals.  But the most important thing is that they're here, they're working on amazing science projects, and they're an amazing group.  They are: 

Diana Gonzalez-Argueta, from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, working with Prof. Caroline Morley

Rebeca Soto Armendariz, from Angelo State University working with Prof. Brendan Bowler

Carlos Garcia Diaz, from Delaware State University working with Prof. Karl Gebhardt

Imani Dindy, from Oklahoma State University working with Dr. Justin Spilker

Stefany Fabian Dubon, from Bryn Mawr College working with Prof. Danielle Berg and Dr. Karla Arellano-Córdova

Karina Kimani-Stewart, from Texas Tech University working with Dr. Michael Gully-Santiago and Prof. Caroline Morley

Amanda Lue, from Colgate University working with Dr. David Guszejnov and Prof. Stella Offner

Natalia Garza Navarro, from Agnes Scott College working with Dr. David Wilson

Mateo Guerra Toro, from Missouri State University working with Dr. Yifan Zhou

Mikayla Wilson, from Texas Christian University working with Dr. Ben Tofflemire

Over the next few weeks we'll be introducing them to you one by one so you get to know them better. Stay tuned!

And of course, this first post of the year is happening on an auspicious day -- Juneteenth, the day we celebrate when news of the end of slavery reached the state of Texas.  Even though it's finally and rightly now celebrated at a national level, Juneteenth has special meaning here in Texas, and especially in Austin where the first celebrations of the day were held in 1872.  Last year Juneteenth too was sadly only online, but today there's a parade in East Austin where the energy is palpable and jubilant.  Celebrate with family, friends, and take the opportunity to find and patronize Black-owned business near you!  Here's a great starting point for businesses in Austin.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

TAURUS and REU Research Symposium 2019

This is long overdue, but so happy to share with you some of the pictures from the final research symposium of the 2019 TAURUS Scholars, and for the first year also UT Astronomy's REU program participants!  It was so incredible having so many scholars in town over the summer, working hard on research, preparing their research notes for publication and making beautiful posters as rough drafts for the winter AAS meeting which will be in Honolulu this year!

Because our group was so big, and we wanted to hold one joint TAURUS+REU end-of-summer extravaganza, we opted for poster presentations rather than talks as we have done in years past.  Each scholar introduced themselves in a short poster "pop" presentation and a poster session was held immediately afterward.  We had such a good turn-out and such wonderful conversations about everyone's scientific achievements!  Overall, the format worked really well and led to more interaction, so we'll be sure to use this model going forward.

After the poster session, we had some big group shots out on the roof of the 13th floor.  They look great, even though it was one of the HOTTEST days of the year, but that's how we roll here in Texas. :)

Can't wait to see everyone soon in Honolulu! Let's keep in touch!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Scholar Spotlight: Nolan Elauria

The last TAURUS Scholar Spotlight of 2019 is here and it's all about Nolan Elauria.  Nolan joins us from CalPoly San Luis Obispo, where he is currently a senior working towards a physics major. Nolan has done some research in biophysics at his home institute modeling the spread of crop disease, and is now gaining some experiences in the world of astrophysics. Nolan’s project aims to identify young stars by looking for rotation in thousands of time series lightcurves from the Kepler Satellite, and then search them for transiting exoplanets.  Nolan's research mentor, Dr. Aaron Rizzuto, sat down with Nolan recently to learn more.

AR: What led to chose your major and what do you like about it?

NE: I have been aiming at doing a physics major since middle school, where I was inspired by a really great teacher who got me thinking about how things work. The same interest in how things work and breaking things down into models carried through into my college studies. The puzzle solving experienc
e is something I really like, and the process-based learning often featured in physics really suits me.

AR: What led you to apply for the TAURUS program?

NE: I new I wanted to do a summer research project in a physics area, and astronomy and astrophysics was something I was interested in since I started college. Given that I was already exploring other areas of physics with research projects at my home institution, TAURUS seemed like a great move in the astronomy direction. I really wanted direct working experience in the field, so when the opportunities arose I applied to astro research summer programs, including TAURUS. I also wanted a somewhat more open ended and less directed research experience, to see how I would do in a self-sufficient working envirnment, and that seemed like a possibility with TAURUS.

AR: Who have been some inspiring mentors/role models in your life?

NE: The professors I got to work with at my home institution have really helped me build my interest in physics and science.  Dr. Stamatis Vokos and Dr. Oleg Kogan are the two professors I’ve worked closely with prior to TAURUS over the last three years, and talking to them about my experience and goals as an undergrad has been very helpful for pointing me in the right direction and keeping me aiming high.

AR: What does it mean to you to be a scientist?

NE: I’m not sure yet, I think I need more experience in the field to be able to give a specific answer to that. But generally, I think it’s to keep exploring things that you are curious about, and to always look for find new things and questions to ask.

AR: What advice would you give to high school or early undergraduate students who are interested in the science career path?

NE: Beyond a certain point it doesn’t really matter as much what grades you are getting, it matters what you do and what you’ve been a part of. Building experiences is very important.

AR: What are some of your interests outside of school and astronomy?

NE: Movies and music are the two interest that I keep going back to. I listen to lots of music and I play guitar. My parents pushed me to take guitar classes when I was 8, and I learned for a few years then stopped and forgot everything. In senior year of high school I got back into it and have been enjoying it since. I think that because these activities are not as structured and more creative they are a good alternative to the subjects that I am studying in College. I’m also on a sketch comedy team at my home institution. So really anything creative and very different from science is what I gravitate to when I’m not studying or working.

AR: What are your longer term career goals? Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

NE: I don’t really have an answer for that. I’m at a point right now where I’m not sure where I’ll be even two years in the future. But that’s not a bad thing, and I don’t find it discouraging. I’ve been working hard to get to this point for a long time and can take whatever path interests me from here, and the possibilities are all exciting.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Scholar Spotlight: Ariel Mora

The penultimate TAURUS Scholar Spotlight of 2019 focuses on Ariel Mora, a rising junior at Bennington College.

Ariel Mora is studying physics and astronomy in the Bennington College. Ariel has been active in research on binary stars, and he is excited about learning radio astronomy this summer working with Dr. Ya-Lin Wu. Ariel’s project focuses on determining the mass of a potentially substellar object by the Keplerian rotation in its accretion disk.  Ya-Lin recently sat down with Ariel to learn more about his passions and future goals!

YLW: What inspired you to study and pursue a career in astronomy or science in general?

AM: My physics and astronomy classes in college have been very inspiring, and have been a lot of fun for me. I also enjoyed working with my mentor in my past internship at Maria Mitchell Observatory in Massachusetts. I carried out observations of a binary star on my own, and utilized photometry to determine the rotation period.

YLW: What most excites you about doing research?

AM: What has been really exciting is having the chance to study new things that people haven't studied before and using my data to make my own conclusions.

YLW: What are your hobbies and favorite pastimes?

AM: I enjoy activities such as boxing. I created a boxing club at my college and recruited new members to join.

YLW: What values, experiences, and/or perspectives do you feel you'll bring to your next research project after TAURUS?

AM: I can bring an interest of learning. I enjoy trying to understand new ideas. I hope my experience can help in my future research. I am also lookin
g forward to more internships as I still have two years left in college.

YLW: Who have been the inspiring mentors, teachers, or role models in your life?

AM: My high school physics teacher really inspired me to continue in the field of STEM. My professor in college is really excited about his astronomy and physics classes, which also makes me excited. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Scholar Spotlight: Lina Florez

Our sixth TAURUS Scholar Spotlight is on Lina Florez, who comes to the TAURUS program from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she will soon be starting her final year. At UT Austin, Lina is working with Dr. David Wilson, using data from the Very Large Telescope to characterise a newly-discovered binary system.

Having grown up watching science documentaries, Lina first became interested in a career in science during high school due to really enjoying her physics classes. Her school encouraged her to seek out opportunities for links with universities, and Lina found her first summer research position at the University of Illinois while still in high school. With the help of the research advisor, Lina was able to secure sponsorship to attend that university as an undergraduate.

“In the beginning science was really intimidating to me,” she says, “but what I find interesting is there’s a lot that we don’t know, and I’d love to be a part of trying to understand that.” Lina has acted on that interest, undertaking multiple research projects at every stage of her education despite having to work three jobs to support herself through university. 

In addition to her work on a rare white dwarf-brown dwarf binary system at UT, Lina has developed instrumentation for the South Pole Telescope at the University of Illinois, worked on sky subtraction algorithms for the Subaru Telescope at Princeton and analyzed observations of quasars. Lina particularly enjoys the computational side of research: “I really like learning how to use my computer to analyze all of these huge sets of data and try to understand what’s going on.” These varied projects have given Lina an interest in, and understanding of, a broad range of areas within astronomy. She cites exoplanets and quasars as particular favourites. 

After her time at UT, Lina plans to apply for grad school to carry on working in astronomical research. Looking to the future, she sees programs like TAURUS helping to make the astronomical community more diverse. “When I started out I didn’t see anyone who looked like me who wanted to do what I wanted to do,” she notes, so the opportunity to work with a diverse group has been important. “I want to try and see more people like me in astronomy, so I go out of my way to tell people why I care about it so much.” 

Lina cites the advocates and mentors she has worked with as vital for helping her get to where she is now, and encourages students from similar backgrounds to do the same: “Try to reach out to people as soon as you can,” she says. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without their help. Also try to develop skill sets like coding, which are useful and will make you feel more comfortable when doing research. And try your best at school!”

Thus far Lina’s project at UT Austin is going very well, and she will be presenting her work at the AAS meeting in Hawaii next January. Come and see her there if you need a grad student!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Scholar Spotlight: Miguel Gutierrez

This is the fifth TAURUS Scholar Spotlight of the summer. Dr. Ben Tofflemire sat down with his mentee Miguel Gutierrez to learn more about his motivation for studying astronomy. At UT he is working on the evolution of very young stars.

Miguel Gutierrez joins the TAURUS program from the Florida Institute of Technology where he is a rising senior working towards a double degree in Astronomy/Astrophysics and Mathematical Sciences. Miguel has been active in particle and plasma physics research at his home institution but is excited for the opportunity to try on research as a full time job this summer. Miguel’s project focuses on determining how young stars interact with their protoplanetary by analyzing high-spectral-resolution, near-infrared spectra. 

BT: What led to chose your major and what do you like about it?

MG: One of the things that drew me to Florida Tech was that they offer a degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics, which is rare. I was always interested in studying space and stuff and knew that I wanted to pursue those interests in college, rather than getting a degree in Physics and waiting until graduate school to do real astronomy. Plus, the department is great and I’ve really enjoyed the Astronomy courses they offer. The Math double major has also been cool because I get a lot more of the background in statistics and math theory that has made my physics and astronomy courses a lot easier. 

BT: What led you to apply for the TAURUS program?

MG: I was interested in doing some kind of research internship to see how I liked doing full time research, mainly as a way to figure out what career path is best for me after I graduate. I searched for anything I could find that was astronomy and astrophysics related and came across TAURUS. It sounded fun and seemed really cool so I applied to it and got in, and I was really excited about it! 

BT: Who have been some inspiring mentors/role models in your life?

MG: Recently, two of my professors at Florida Tech, Dr. Perez (UT Alum) and Dr. Caballero, have both been really inspirational and incredibly helpful. It’s not all the time that you get to have role models that are minorities, especially in this field, so it’s been super great to see really successful people that I’ve been able to relate to on that level. Dr. Perez is my academic advisor and I’ve taken two of his classes, which have been two of my favorite classes. He’s a really good professor. It’s just really cool to have someone that cares about teaching and is super passionate about the subjects he teaches. It really makes a difference, since I walk out of every lecture excited a little bit more about science. 

BT: What advice would you give to high school or early undergraduate students who are interested in the science career path?

MG: Don’t be discouraged if it gets hard. I feel like a lot of people tend to cut themselves short and say, “oh I could never study that,” or “I could never do that,” because at some point they had a bad experience with a class or a person. But if you try hard enough at something, you can always do it. The way people get good at things is by doing them a lot. Math is a good example. I’m only good at math because I’ve taken so many classes. I’m not great at mental math, so if we were basing it purely on that, then I’m bad at math, right, so if it’s is something that you like, then go for it. Don’t let the difficulty of it scare you.

BT: What are some of your interests outside of school and astronomy?

MG: I definitely play a lot of video games, not as much as I would like to actually, which is a surprising thing to say, you don’t hear that a lot, but I really enjoy them. I like a lot of different types of games, but the ones that resonate the most with me are the ones that are really story intensive. I like watching movies too. I like pretty much everything, from Marvel movies to indie movies. I’m interested to see Midsommar, because it’s by the same director of Hereditary, which was one of my favorite movies of last year. I’ve also recently picked up the guitar. I really like music. I’ve been in band since 5th grade, and I really want to keep that going on the side to distract me from work in a way that feels more constructive than video games. 


At the program’s halfway point, Miguel had made great progress and will produce some exciting results by the end of the Summer.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Research Pro-Tip #2: How to start writing a Scientific Article

This is the second research Pro-Tip of the summer, talking about how to approach the monumental task of writing your results up in a report.  Specifically, we're talking about publication of a Research Note of the American Astronomical Society, which is a little less monstrous than a refereed scientific paper, but a lot of the same concepts apply.

Not sure how to get started on that paper/article/research note? Have no fear!  Today I want to give you some tips on how to get started with writing.

Scientific writing tends to be a bit more dense than creative writing and a bit closer to journalism-type writing.  There’s no right way or wrong way to write scientifically, which can make starting quite difficult and nebulous.  The first tip I’ll give is to start by reading other papers similar to those you might anticipate writing.  If these were long-format journal articles, I’d point you to the papers you’ve been reading as references to understand paper structure, the types of calculations that are discussed, and what’s left out of the discussion.  In the case of research notes, it’s more useful to have example research notes than complete papers, so below is a list of some research notes published in the last year (**the first two were works published by Aimee Schechter and Laney Wicker, two recent UT undergraduates!).

Schechter & Casey (2018)**
Wicker & Casey (2019)**
Abramson (2018)
Zink et al. (2019)
Pasham & Wevers (2019)
Dingler & Cuntz (2019)
Konar & Chahal (2019)
Beichman et al. (2019)

I encourage you to READ them.  This doesn’t mean you’ll understand every concept presented in each note because 1000 words isn’t a lot of room to explain your whole field.  Instead, as you read, try to diagram the similarities and differences between these articles.  Do they all start out in a similar way with a broad statement about their area of research?  What might that statement look like for the research you’ve been doing?  Take a stab at jotting down a few ideas even if you don’t know if you have it exactly right.  Try to go through the entire note while noticing the pattern of presenting data, describing a figure, and then drawing conclusions.  Are there key phrases that are used by many of the notes above? In what ways was the structure of these notes similar?  Did any of the differences surprise you?  The key to success with scientific writing is to emulate others until you get the hang of it yourself (often this takes years and years!).

Next, I’d encourage you to keep in mind: perfect is the enemy of good.  A lot of students struggle to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for fear that what they write won’t be correct and will need to be re-written.  That is not only a super common feeling, but one that doesn’t really go away even after you’ve been doing this for years!  But sitting in that fear is not what will get the job done.  In order to practice writing, I encourage you to each take a period of the day (maybe 30 minutes this week, ramping up to 1 hour next week) to free-associate about your work.  This means keeping your fingers moving on the keyboard, writing out sentences, no matter what — even if what you have to say isn’t perfectly worded, grammatically correct, or eloquent.  You're just putting words on the page.  Revising a paper or research note with existing text is SO MUCH easier than working with a blank page.  Just. Keep. Writing.

Once you have words on a page — celebrate!!  And then send them to your advisor. Even if you’d feel embarrassed to do so! I promise they do not have to be perfect for them to read it over.  It’s not a book report where you’ll be graded on quality.  Your supervisor will just be thrilled that you wrote stuff down, and they will be extremely helpful in the revision process, helping you cite relevant papers, helping with the logical flow, etc.  Often they don’t know how to help you best until there’s a working draft in-hand, which can often lead to more fruitful discoveries in the revision process, but that crucial first step belongs to you!

Last thing I’ll mention today is the mechanics of writing a research note.  If you visit the submission info page here:
You’ll see that you can submit research notes either as Microsoft Word documents or in LaTeX (or Overleaf which is a form of LaTeX).  What’s LaTeX?!  It’s the word processor of choice for astronomers (and physicists), which is more like coding up a PDF document than designing it in a fancy graphical user interface.  Working in LaTeX can be intimidating, but if you’re eager to learn how it works I’d like to point you to some tutorials:
And here’s a link to overleaf, which is how lots of papers and notes are written these days, online, so you don’t have to bother with installing everything on your local machine:
You can prepare your research note in Word, LaTeX or Overleaf, but I would encourage you to talk to your advisor first it before committing!  But in the meantime, don’t hesitate to get started in WHATEVER word processor you’re most comfortable using.  The important thing is to just keep writing!!