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My URSS project with Warwick Astro

When it came to thinking about summer internships, I wanted to look for something different to the finance or business placements that many science students undertake. Instead I applied to do an undergraduate research project in the astrophysics department through Warwick’s URSS scheme, which I have been completing over the summer!

After approaching my current supervisor at the start of the year and completing the URSS application in January, I started my project at the end of Term 3. It’s been a learning experience of epic proportions and has given me real insight into what it is like to undertake academic research.

It’s been a learning experience of epic proportions…

My project is based on a paper my supervisor, Tom Marsh, co-wrote a couple of years ago about a triple star system. Ordinarily, such systems are relatively easy to model as they are constrained by geometry and Kepler’s laws. However for this particular system, only by relaxing the physical constraints could precise parameters be found! Clearly this is not ideal, and so my project picks up where the paper left off and tries to discover what is really going on.

Through the duration of my project I have learnt a lot more than I anticipated. I have learnt how to reduce images of the stars and turn them into light curves, whilst taking into account observational limitations. I have also improved my programming skills. Python code is a key component of modelling the star system, and I have developed short scripts that help to show the effects of changing certain parameters on how good the model is. Understanding the limitations of programming methods and computation has been important too; running the models can take hours so you need to be aware of how fast the code can run so it is not unnecessarily slow!

The most important lesson I am going to take from my research project though is that often things don’t work as expected…

The most important lesson I am going to take from my research project though is that often things don’t work as expected! Real research is littered with mistakes, errors of judgement and plain old misunderstandings, but that’s all okay. Only by making mistakes can you delve to the bottom of a problem, and it definitely results in more interesting research!


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