Brodheim ’20 Studies the Life Cycle of Stars - Hobart and William Smith Colleges
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Brodheim ’20 Studies the Life Cycle of Stars

In Chile during spring break, Max Brodheim ’20 and Assistant Professor of Physics Leslie Hebb traveled to Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO), where they measured a pair of young stars in a binary system that could offer vital insights into “our understanding of the life cycles of stars,” Brodheim says.

“While we have a good understanding of how middle to old age stars behave, our models really don’t work for young stars, because we need more data. This project will add more data to the pool needed to make those advancements,” explains Brodheim, who will develop his research on this pre-main sequence eclipsing binary system into an Honors project.

In Chile, he and Hebb used time-series photometry “to collect information about how the brightness of the system changes over time.”

“We can see the dips in brightness that corresponded to one star passing in front of another, which is exactly what we were hoping to find,” Brodheim says. “I now have hundreds of pictures of our target, which I have begun to analyze. We found exactly what we were hoping to find, which means I will have plenty of data to work with during my analysis.”

Over the course of the spring semester, he will continue gathering these light curves and compile a report and preliminary data analysis. He will then spend the summer at Vanderbilt University’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program, modeling the star system to fit the data from the spring’s analysis. When he returns to the HWS campus in the fall, he will collect all of the findings — mass ratio, velocities and temperatures of the stars — into his Honors thesis.

In addition to coursework in observational astronomy and his background as a computer science major, Brodheim has developed his field research and analytical skills during a summer research experience last year at Montana State University exploring optical remote sensing, “which gave me a lot of experience of working with light detectors, especially how important careful calibrations and attention to detail are to success.”

Brodheim, who is president of the Colleges’ Engineering Club, hopes to pursue his graduate degree in astronomy and one day to work with data gathered from the soon-to-be-launched replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope. On campus, he has founded a physics and astronomy club. In the Fall of 2019, club members will participate in observation nights on the Quad, host open houses at the Richard S. Perkin Observatory and lead astronomy workshops for HWS and Geneva community members.

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