Date: March 13, 2014
"Congratulations to Jillian on this magnificent national-level accomplishment," said UMass Dartmouth Provost Mohammad Karim. "UMass Dartmouth is committed to supporting its young researchers who are pushing ahead with their search for new knowledge."
In her research, Jillian studied a class of exploding stars known as thermonuclear supernovae. As one of the brightest objects in the cosmos, a supernova in vastly distant galaxies can be seen clearly by astronomers. As it ends its life in an unfathomably large explosion, a supernova releases as much energy over the span of several seconds as the sun does in its entire lifetime.
"Beyond being incredible explosions, supernovae provide a rare and fascinating opportunity for astronomers to understand these cosmological distance markers," said Jillian. "In January, a supernova erupted close to 12 million light years away. It was one of the closest and brightest supernovae in recent history viewable from Earth. However, the stellar conditions of origin for this type of supernova remain a mystery."
Astronomers rely on determining the brightness of supernovae to make accurate distance measurements and develop cosmological maps. In much the same way that one knows a dim candle must be very distant, supernovae are used as "standard candles" to measure distances across the cosmos of millions of light years. Further investigation of supernovae pre and post explosion is required to better understand these cosmic yard sticks and improve upon current measurements.
The double white dwarf model is one of the leading models for a supernova to occur. It consists of two stars in orbit, locked in, spiraling inward together until they merge and go off as a supernova. Jillian and Professor Fisher are using a computer simulation of the first moments following the merger to predict an observable optical and X-ray signature. Current and future telescopic surveys will allow for these pre-explosion images to be compared directly against the predictions to validate the double white dwarf merger model. Determining what causes this type of supernova will likely improve their use as cosmological distance markers.
The relationship between supernovae distances led to the discovery of dark energy, which provides strong evidence of the universe's accelerating expansion. Supernovae are also believed to impact the chemical balance of the universe.
Professor Fisher leads a group of graduate and undergraduate students pursuing several exciting research projects in star formation and supernovae. He consistently engages with and supports graduate and undergraduate students who are interested in theoretical astrophysics and computational physics. Professor Fisher is also a member of UMass Dartmouth's Center for Scientific Computing and Visualization Research, which focuses on computationally-driven research that addresses the pressing needs of modern engineering, mechanics, fluid dynamics, and electromagnetics.
The CUR has hosted the annual undergraduate poster session in Washington, D.C. as a direct way to help members of Congress understand the importance of undergraduate research by talking directly with the students who have benefited immensely from undergraduate programs. The Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium awarded Jillian a NASA grant over the summer to fund her project. After graduation, she intends to continue her studies in graduate school, and to earn a Ph.D. in astrophysics.
UMass Dartmouth's Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) promotes undergraduate research, supports student-researchers, and disseminates the products of student research. The drive for seeking knowledge, embodied in all members of the UMass Dartmouth community, is a signature component of the university's educational experience and research is the expression of this search. OUR offers awards for the fall and spring semester to help support student research projects. Undergraduate students in any department at UMass Dartmouth, who are engaged in original research under the guidance of a faculty member, are eligible.