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~Wellesley Shares Astronomy Grant To Aid Student Research~

For immediate release:
September 20, 2004

Arlie Corday,

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- Wellesley College will share a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support undergraduate research. The award has been given to Wellesley and other members of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC). The grant will allow Wellesley astronomers to continue their work with student research projects for the next two years.

The grant is awarded through NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program (REU). In addition to Wellesley College, KNAC member schools include Colgate, Haverford, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Vassar, Wesleyan and Williams.

The consortium was created in 1990 in response to a proposal to the W.M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles. The goals of the consortium are to promote interaction among the astronomers at the eight member colleges, whose astronomy departments have small but strong programs with a history of student research participation; to modernize the equipment at these schools to provide all students the opportunity to learn modern astronomical observing and analysis techniques; to develop lab and teaching projects that can be shared; and to promote research collaborations between students and faculty.

Between 1990 and 2002 the Keck Foundation contributed more than $2.3 million to support collaborative astronomy research among undergraduates and faculty at the eight member colleges. Since 2002, the program has been funded by contributions from the member colleges.

“In addition, we benefited from the original funds that outfitted our (Whitin) Observatory with a modern digital camera and research computers,” said Wellesley College astronomy professor Kim McLeod.

The Wellesley student research is wide-ranging and highly professional.

“This summer, (junior) Rebecca Stoll worked with me analyzing quasar images I obtained in January using the 6.5m Magellan I Telescope in Chile,” said McLeod. “We have tentatively detected in these data some of the earliest galaxies to form around supermassive black holes, dating from when the universe was just 10 percent of its current age.”

Sophomores Merideth Frey and Stephanie Rounds and junior Rachel Hock used observations of Saturn from the Hubble Space Telescope to determine the orbital positions of many of Saturn’s moons, research supported by NASA’s Massachusetts Space Grant.

“These results form the foundation for studying the celestial mechanics of the orbits of these natural satellites,” said Professor Richard French, who supervised their work. “They will also be used to aid in the planning of the Cassini mission, a four-year orbital tour of Saturn that began last July.”

Other Wellesley astronomy students who had summer internships this year include senior Melissa Rice (at the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico); senior Christine Simpson (at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory) and senior Wendy Hawley (at Lowell Observatory).

A hallmark of the program is the summer student exchange, which allows students to participate in research carried out by faculty members at other KNAC colleges. Each fall these students gather with other astronomy students from the member schools to present their work at a student symposium. Thus far, more than 160 students and two dozen faculty members have participated in the summer exchange, and nearly 300 students have presented their research at the fall symposia.

Wellesley astronomy faculty taking part in the research and symposia include: Wendy Hagen-Bauer, who studies mass loss from red giants and supergiants as well as the UV spectrum of the long-period interacting binary star system VV Cephei; Richard French, who investigates the dynamics and structure of planetary rings and atmospheres using ground and space-based telescopes; Kim McLeod, whose observations probe quasars, galaxy evolution and planets around young stars; Jeff Regester, engineer and laboratory instructor; and visiting faculty member Stephen Slivan, who uses Wellesley’s Whitin 24" telescope to study rotation of asteroids.

Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal-arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 68 countries. For more information, go to


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