This is the unofficial website of the NSF AAPF program, run by the fellows themselves. For official information about the fellowship, please go to the NSF program announcement.
Galaxies can be thought of as big machines for making gas into stars. Some galaxies are much more efficient machines than others, though why this is so remains a mystery. I suspect the key to this question lies in giant molecular clouds (GMCs) -- cold, dense clouds of molecular gas that host nearly all the star formation in galaxies. My research studies the origins and evolution of these GMCs; i.e. how they form out of the (relatively) warm, diffuse gas that permeates galaxies and then how they go on to form stars. In particular, I use millimeter-wave interferometers and single-dish radio telescopes to study GMCs in nearby galaxies, looking for the links between the population of GMCs in each galaxy and that galaxy's efficiency at star formation. I also examine how these clouds are related to the warm, diffuse gas that forms them, searching for the observational signatures of a variety of proposed formation mechanism.
Most college students of astronomy are taught by professors who were primarily trained as research scientists. There is little correlation between between a professor's research ability and their effectiveness as teachers. As an NSF fellow, I am working with the Science Education Division (SED) at the Center for Astrophysics to adapt and develop training materials for new graduate students in astronomy, many of whom are entering the classroom for the first time. My primarily focus is on translating the modern and well-developed pedagogical tools of the SED into a form that is easily adopted by new graduate student instructors. These graduate students will ultimately become the faculty members that teach future generations of introductory astronomy, and providing them with beneficial training now will translate into increased effectiveness of astronomy instruction in the future.