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USU Science Alum Studies Stellar Data from Nordic Optical Telescope

Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009

USU's David Peak, alum Jan Marie Andersen, Jens Viggo Clausen

Aggie science alum Jan Marie Andersen, center, at Denmark's Niels Bohr Institute, with former USU mentor David Peak, left, who visited the institute during Andersen’s Fulbright stint, and Danish mentor Jens Viggo Clausen, right.

the Nordic Optical Telescope

Located on La Palma in the Atlantic Ocean's Canary Islands, the Nordic Optical Telescope is situated some 7,800 ft. above sea level. Andersen and Danish colleagues are using data from the telescope to study early stars. Photo by Bob Tubbs.

Following her 2007 graduation from Utah State University, Jan Marie Anderson headed to the University of Copenhagen on a Fulbright U.S. Student Scholarship to study stellar evolution and the early universe at Denmark’s renowned Niels Bohr Institute.
“The institute is one of the few places in the world where there’s a highly concentrated effort to study the earliest stars,” says Andersen, who earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from USU and was named the College of Science’s 2007 Undergraduate Researcher of the Year.
But a year in Denmark wasn’t nearly long enough for Andersen, now a graduate student in astrophysics at Boston University. Her Danish mentor, Professor Jens Viggo Clausen, agreed.
The two discussed continuing the research they’d started using spectroscopy data from the Nordic Optical Telescope after Andersen returned to the U.S. After drafting a successful proposal, they arranged funding for the Aggie alum to return to the Danish institute this summer.
“We were able to obtain more telescope time to look at more stars and made further observations on the stars we’d already examined,” Andersen says.
Andersen and Clausen are studying spectral emissions from a number of elderly stars.
“These extremely metal-poor halo giants have large concentrations of certain heavy elements that, according to our current theories of star formation and evolution, shouldn’t be there,” she says. “So, the theory is that, rather than just one star, these are actually binary systems of two stars orbiting each other.”
The heavy elements found in these stars, Andersen says, could be coming from partner stars.
“By observing these stars, we can detect if they are binary stars because of the ‘wobble’ we see in their orbit,” she says.
The method used to observe the stars’ orbit, called the Radial Velocity Technique, is also used to find extra-solar planets. Andersen says the movement of stars causes the spectrum to be “Doppler-shifted,” which she explains is similar to the way a train whistle or a police siren seems to change in frequency and pitch as it moves closer or farther away.
“The people at the Niels Bohr Institute have been so nice to me and I look forward to continuing my research with them,” says Andersen, who returns to her studies at BU this fall.
She recalls the orientation lecture she received when she first entered the Fulbright program.
“They explained the purpose of Fulbright grants and how part of it is to build stronger relations between the U.S. and different countries,” Andersen says. “I have made a lot of friends and professional contacts here, which is awesome. I expected to have a good time (in Denmark), but what I hadn't expected — and what totally took me off guard — was to love this place so fiercely. I'm sad to have to leave again, but I have no doubt I'll be back.”
Related links:
Contact: Jan Marie Andersen,
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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