Works and Days

Astronomy at the University of Michigan: Sarah Racz, Winter Shadow 2016

The first thing I did when I found out I was accepted for the Winter Shadow program in Astronomy at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor was look into getting a parka. I was excited to visit Ann Arbor for the first time, and really hoping for some snow.

I stayed in Ann Arbor for a week, and left with unending love for what has become my favorite diner of all time.

I worked with a Mario Mateo, who is an astronomer at the University of Michigan. The project I worked on sought to measure the dependence of the magnitudes of RR Lyrae stars upon metal abundance. RR Lyrae stars are variable stars, known for having short periods. All the stars we observed were from the globular cluster Omega Centauri, which is a cluster known for having a range in the metallicities of its stars. All the data was from a telescope in La Serena, Chile that Mario had built. During the week I wrote several scripts in Python to read from huge files of data and run data analysis.

Everyone I encountered in the Astronomy department was kind and welcoming. Lizzy and I were given a tour of an astronomy lab, and taken out for lunch by the women in the department. Touring the lab was interesting, as I saw the smaller version of what might eventually become integrated into large-scale telescopes. The lunch with the women astronomers was also phenomenal because I was given great advice and guidance on steps I might want to take to further my career. The experience also reminded me of how cool I think astronomy is beyond theoretical concepts. Lizzy and I were also invited to attend some of Mario’s classes, where we got a taste of the big campus college life.

All in all I loved the experience and came away with a lot. It was great having an experience that both prepared me for my future, and was exactly what I wanted in the present. Mario and his family, along with their neighbors, were gracious hosts and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Being a Reedie prepares you to face new challenges, and this Winter Shadow was a great place to test that out. 

Tags: winter shadow, winter externship, astronomy, science, stem, education, university, space