Ethan A. Kruse ’12 may spend hours each week in front of a computer screen—but he’s not dallying on virtual playgrounds like World of Warcraft or Counterstrike. The astrophysics concentrator has far loftier preoccupations —literally.
Kruse is analyzing the magnetic field measurements of one of the smallest and most common stars in the universe, the M dwarf star.
In his research, Kruse analyzes the magnetic fields of approximately 50,000 stars and characterizes the evolution of these fields over time. He studies these magnetic fields—which are generated by the motion of plasma inside a star—to better understand the impact they may have on neighboring planets and to compare them to the sun’s own magnetic field.
“These stars are roughly 80 percent of the stars in the entire universe, and yet we have no idea why they have magnetic fields at all,” said Kruse, who submitted his research for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.
Assistant Professor of Astronomy Edo Berger, who teaches an introductory course in observational astronomy, offered Kruse a research position at the end of the previous academic year.
“He has a natural talent for understanding how real astronomy works, how to handle data, and how to analyze observations,” Berger said.
During the summer, Kruse participated in the Program for Research in Science and Engineering while conducting his research. He also travelled to Princeton University to meet with some of the professors who conducted the Sloan Digital Sky Survey—a major project collating observational data about stellar objects.
Kruse, who used the data from the survey for his research, discussed with the professors how to use the data to measure magnetic fields over time.
“He used an existing set of observations but in a completely different way from other people that used these observations,” Berger said.
Using data from his research, Kruse plans to conduct a second study that focuses on the magnetic properties of a smaller subset of five to ten thousand stars.
Berger said that Kruse is an example of how an undergraduate can produce meaningful research in astronomy.
“I think it’s something that’s unique to astronomy where students could really make a big impact even when they are young,” Berger said.
Gurtina Besla, a graduate student in the department of astronomy and Kruse’s teaching fellow in Astronomy 16, pointed to the importance of undergraduates integrating themselves into the community of students and faculty members passionate about this field of study.
“He’s becoming really involved with the astronomy community,” Besla said. “I think that’s something that most undergraduates really need to do.”
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