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Erin Martell '09 and Emma Wollman '09 Honored at Physics Conference

Erin Martell '09 and Emma Wollman '09  
Honored at Physics Conference   

by Alisa Giardinelli

Erin Martell '09 and Emma Wollman '09

Erin Martell '09 (left) and Emma Wollman '09 with their award-winning work.

Erin Martell '09 and Emma Wollman '09 presented a poster about their stellar wind research at the  16th annual Atomic Processes in Plasmas meeting in Monterey, Calif., in March. Despite being the only representatives of a small college, and the only undergraduates presenting, they won the prize for the best student poster at the meeting.

"The poster award was definitely a nice surprise, but I found that the opportunity to explain our research to other scientists was more rewarding," says Emma, an Honors physics major with minors in Greek and mathematics from Andover, Mass. "When you spend a long time thinking about a particular problem, you can't help but find it interesting. It's thus validating to be able to explain your research to other people and have them find it interesting, too."

Since last summer, both students have worked closely with Associate Professor of Astronomy David Cohen on their research projects. The meeting served largely as the culmination of this work, which while independent, is related.

"They both looked at the effects of absorption of x-rays by stellar winds as a way of figuring out how dense these stellar winds are," says Cohen, who gave a a talk at the meeting on the atomic physics applications in the winds of massive stars.  "This is important because these winds cycle heavy elements made inside stars into the interstellar gas and dust out of which new stars form.  How much material stars eject into the galaxy over their lifetime is an important input for many significant problems in astronomy."

Erin Martell '09 and Emma Wollman '09

Erin and Emma combined their two projects in the poster, providing an introduction in the left column, Erin's project in the middle, and Emma's on the right.

Cohen, a strong proponent of undergraduate research, says it's important for students to have the opportunity to interact as fellow scientists with other members of the scientific community. "It's fun and cool, but it also has real beneficial effects," he says. "It allows you to see yourself as part of a larger human endeavor and it's a thrill to see things from class in the real world, where the connections become tangible."

In the fall, Emma plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics  at the California Institute of Technology. Erin, an Honors major in Latin and astrophysics from Dennis, Mass., is also making plans for graduate school.