Feature

Bringing Extragalactic Data Down to Earth
04.18.07
Amber Straughn
It is impressive enough to have a good understanding of space telescope grism data and how it can be used to detect emission line galaxies to study star formation.

Even more impressive is having that understanding, and being able to explain it well.

Image to right: Amber Straughn began her Chambliss-award-winning research at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Credit: NASA

Astronomer Amber Straughn recently received an award for her ability to do both.

Straughn is currently a doctoral student at Arizona State University studying physics and astronomy. She is also a recipient of NASA's Harriett G. Jenkins Predoctoral Fellowship, which provides financial support to female and minority graduate students and those who have disabilities, studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Through the project, Straughn participated in a six-week hands-on research experience at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md., in the summer of 2006.

Recently, at the American Astronomical Society's annual meeting in Seattle, Straughn presented a poster with her results on emission line galaxies. At the meeting, the AAS provided undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to display detailed posters about their research.

For her poster, titled "Emission Line Galaxies in PEARS: A 2-D Detection Method," Straughn received the society's Chambliss medal. Straughn began the research featured on the poster during her student research experience at Goddard.

Straughn said she was honored to receive the medal, and particularly appreciated its recognition of her ability to communicate about her research.

"I think one of the really important things in science, in general, is to be able to convey what you're doing to the public and to other scientists," she said. "I really have a passion for the education and outreach side of science, especially towards the younger students. I enjoy giving lectures and these sorts of things to elementary and high school kids. I've been heavily involved in outreach projects here at ASU. We do a monthly astronomy open house, and I've been active in helping with that, in developing some new things to do at that. I've recently become involved with the Arizona Science Teachers Association and hope to be able to give some presentations and do those sorts of things for some schools around here before I graduate."

Related Resources
+ NASA Student Opportunity Podcast

+ NASA Harriett G. Jenkins Predoctoral Fellowship Project

+ NASA Education Web Site

+ NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

+ Hubble Space Telescope

+ NASA Academy

+ NASA Space Grant

+ NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Project
The research featured on the poster was conducted by a team, led by Straughn. The team included members from ASU, Johns Hopkins University, Goddard Space Flight Center, the Space Telescope Science Institute and Pennsylvania State University. Their work involved using information from the Hubble Space Telescope to detect galaxies that appear to be undergoing certain physical processes.

"I'm working with a special type of HST data, which is grism data, which basically allows us to get thousands of spectra all at once," Straughn explained. "So it's really a unique type of data." Using the multi-spectra data, which provides information on a variety of individual wavelengths of light, Straughn's team developed a new method for identifying galaxies with emission lines that indicate the formation of stars or other processes. "The data is very rich; there are lots of spectra, and so it's sometimes a challenge to actually find the things we want to in the data," she said, explaining that the new method makes that challenge easier.

The Jenkins fellowship is not the first NASA student project in which Straughn has participated. While pursuing her bachelor's degree at the University of Arkansas, she was involved in a team that was selected to fly an experiment on a NASA reduced-gravity aircraft flight. In 2004, she was a recipient of a grant from NASA Academy's Dr. Gerald A. Soffen Memorial Fund for the Advancement of Space Science Education. At ASU, she is a NASA Space Grant Fellow.

Through graduate student opportunities such as the Harriett G. Jenkins Predoctoral Fellowship, NASA continues the agency's tradition of investing in the nation's education. The fellowship is directly tied the agency's major education goal of strengthening NASA and the nation's future workforce. Through this and the agency's other college and university efforts, NASA will identify and develop the critical skills and capabilities needed to achieve the Vision for Space Exploration.

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services