2017 (Grapevine, TX)

Location and dates

This year's AAPF symposium will be held in conjunction with the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
The AAS meeting will run from Tuesday, January 3, to Saturday, January 7, at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine, TX.
The symposium will be an all-day event on January 3 (ending before the AAS opening reception), followed by a town hall event during the main AAS meeting, from 6:30-8:30pm on Friday, January 6.
The titles and abstracts of Fellows' talks are at the bottom of this page.


Please register for the all-day workshop: https://goo.gl/forms/KPAxmKmvZd2LQiL62
Lunch is guaranteed for all participants who register by December 1.


January 3, 2017

The symposium will be held in Dallas 6 at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center.

Time Topic
8:30am Coffee and refreshments
9am Welcome and introductions
9:15am Status report (NSF AAPF Program Officer Harshal Gupta)
9:30am Talks by fellows -- Christine Corbett Moran, Philip Rosenfield, Garreth Ruane, Angie Wolfgang
10:30am Coffee break
10:45am Talks by fellows -- Abigail Crites, Cara Battersby, Devin Silvia
11:30am Discussion panel: Mentoring underrepresented students (Jorge Moreno, Ashlee Wilkins, )
1pm Lunch (provided)
1:15pm Welcome/FAQ for new fellows
1:30pm Fellows' discussion
2pm Keynote (Joseph Romano, University of Texas Brownsville)
3pm Talks by fellows -- Elisabeth Newton, Cameron Hummels
3:30pm Group photo
3:40pm Coffee break
4pm Discussion panel: science policy (Reba Bandyopadhyay, Heather Bloemhard, Joel Parriott, Joan Schmelz)
5:30pm Closing remarks
8:30pm Dinner, likely at the Riverwalk Cantina

Town Hall on January 6, 2017

Time Topic
6:30pm Welcome remarks
6:35pm Talks by Fellows: Sergio Dieterich, Daniel Grin, Karen Knierman, Jill P Naiman, Cameron Hummels
7:35pm Discussion Panel: Careers in Astronomy -- Matt Povich, Regina Jorgenson, Britt Lundgren, John Wisniewski, Gail Zasowski

Organizing Committee

Darcy Barron (UC Berkeley)
Robyn Sanderson (Caltech/Columbia)
Rukmani Vijayaraghavan (University of Virginia)

Talks by Fellows

January 3 2017

9:30 am: Christine Corbett Moran
Wintering over at the South Pole
In this talk I'll discuss the astronomy being done at the South Pole and relate some interesting scientific and personal stories from my 10.5 months observing for the South Pole Telescope onsite.

9:45 am: Philip Rosenfield
Observational Constraints on Stellar Evolution Models
Stellar evolution models are fundamental to nearly all studies in astrophysics. They are used to interpret spectral energy distributions of distant galaxies, to derive the star formation histories of nearby galaxies, and to understand fundamental parameters of exoplanets. Despite the success in using stellar evolution models, some important aspects of stellar evolution remain poorly constrained and their uncertainties rarely addressed. In this talk, I will present results using archival Hubble Space Telescope observations of stellar clusters in the Magellanic Clouds to simultaneously constrain the values and uncertainties of the strength of core convective overshooting, metallicity, interstellar extinction, cluster distance, binary fraction, and age.

10:00 am: Garreth Ruane
Instrumentation for characterizing exoplanets with future ground and space telescopes
Analyzing the light from exoplanets relies on several key technologies for suppressing and controlling unwanted stellar radiation with coronagraph instruments. From the ground, high-speed wavefront sensing and adaptive optics are needed to compensate for atmospheric turbulence. For future space telescopes, ultra-high precision optics, stability, and wavefront control is required to reach the necessary suppression levels to image earth-like planets orbiting sun-like stars. I will discuss recent advancements in optical design and wavefront control that will pave the way for high-resolution spectroscopy and detailed characterization of the atmospheres of potentially habitable planets.

10:15 am: Angie Wolfgang
Supporting Traditional Outreach With Astronomy Department "Inreach"
I will describe my journey in establishing the "broader impacts" portion of my fellowship activities. As originally proposed, I have worked with Penn State Eberly College of Science staff to bring a new mentoring opportunity to the freshman Ritner House Experience, a residential community established to encourage underrepresented students who have expressed interest in science to pursue and persist in science majors. To complement this more traditional outreach program, I have also worked with several PSU astronomy graduate students to organize and lead a department-wide "journal club" focused on issues of equity and inclusion in astronomy. This two-pronged approach addresses the need for a culture change in astronomy and physics to make the disciplines more inclusive of marginalized groups, which can only happen when a bottom-up outreach program is balanced by a top-down "inreach" program.

10:45 am: Abigail Crites
Probing the Epoch of Reionization with TIME: A [CII] Intensity Mapping Experiment
Some of the most intriguing questions in cosmology today relate to the earliest epochs of the universe. The epoch of reionization is as yet largely unexplored and many basic questions remain open such as: When did reionization occur? What was the duration of reionization? And what sources caused reionization? I will discuss a new technique and a new instrument, TIME, specifically designed to study the epoch of reionization with a line intensity mapping technique that leverages mm-wavelength technology developed to study the CMB. This cryogenic instrument is a pathfinder for a new technique for studying the EoR through intensity mapping of the 157.7 um ionized carbon ([CII]) emitted from the faint, earliest dwarf galaxies.

11:00 am: Cara Battersby
Exposing Star Formation in our Galaxy's Center: A Window into the Distant Universe
Cosmic star formation peaked around a redshift of 2, in conditions vastly different from those we observe in our solar neighborhood. Yet our understanding of this fundamental physical process, the conversion from gas into stars, is rooted in detailed observations of our solar neighborhood. The inner few hundred parsecs of the Milky Way, known as the Central Molecular Zone (CMZ), is our closest laboratory for understanding star formation in the extreme environments (hot, dense, turbulent gas) that once dominated the universe. I present preliminary results from the first survey to expose the sites of star formation across the CMZ using the SMA, CMZoom. We identify the location of dense cores in the CMZ and search for embedded signatures of star formation. These measurements allow us to address fundamental questions regarding the nature of star formation in extreme environments.

11:15 am: Devin Silvia
Maximizing impact on student attitudes toward science with minimal class time
Courses that promote positive attitudes towards science and foster stronger STEM identities are of great benefit to the scientific community, but redesigning courses and incorporating new pedagogies can prove to be a daunting tasks for some instructors. I will present my effort to create a 1-credit seminar for first year students that aims for achieve these goals with limited contact hours and introductory-level scientific content. Through thoughtful course design that leverages inquiry-based learning, a short 7-week course can change students perception of and attitudes towards science. Success at driving such change can be assessed through pre- and post-course surveys, which can also serve to inform future course modifications. I will discuss the results of surveys from my own course and as well as my plans for future courses.

3:00 pm: Elisabeth Newton
The Evolution of Rotation and Magnetism in M Dwarf Stars
Main sequence stars with masses below approximately 0.35 solar masses (red dwarfs, or M dwarfs) are fully-convective, and are expected to have a different type of dynamo mechanism than solar-type stars. These low-mass stars are the most common type of star in the galaxy, but a lack of observational constraints at ages beyond 1 Gyr has hampered studies of rotational evolution and magnetic activity. To address this, we have made new measurements of rotation and magnetic activity in nearby, field-age M dwarfs. Our rotation period measurements are derived from photometry from the MEarth planet-search data, and include detections from 0.1 to 140 days. We use galactic kinematics to estimate the ages of the stars with detected rotation periods. Combining our 387 rotation period measurements and 247 new optical spectra with data from the literature, we probe the rotation-activity in M dwarfs with masses from 0.1 to 0.6 solar masses. I will discuss the relationships we see between age, rotation, and activity, and what they mean for rotational evolution, starspot properties, and the magnetic dynamo.

3:15 pm: Cameron Hummels
Trident: a universal tool for generating synthetic absorption spectra from astrophysical hydrodynamical datasets
Hydrodynamical simulations provide much-needed information about different astrophysical systems, but it is challenging to compare simulations to actual observations due to the vast differences in the content of these two types of data. We announce the public release of Trident, an open-source tool for generating synthetic absorption spectra from hydrodynamical simulation datasets. By creating synthetic observations of simulations, Trident enables direct comparisons to be made against observational data leading to a better understanding of absorption-line systems in the interstellar, circumgalactic, and intergalactic media (ISM, CGM, and IGM).

January 6 2017

6:35 pm: Sergio Dieterich
How I got an NSF Fellowship and What I am Doing with It
I will describe the process of going from having an idea for an NSF Fellowship proposal to being awarded the fellowship, to carrying out the proposed research. I will illustrate this process by describing my research in very low mass stars and brown dwarfs and how an NSF fellowship is helping me to investigate several outstanding questions regarding the bottom of the stellar main sequence and the physics that determines the hydrogen burning minimal mass that separates stars from brown dwarfs. The talk is meant to be of interest to those who would like to apply for an NSF fellowship as well as to those interested in the science of very low mass stars and brown dwarfs.

6:47 pm: Daniel Grin
Ultra-light axions and future CMB experiments
Measurements of cosmic microwave background (CMB) anisotropies provide strong evidence for the existence of dark matter and dark energy. They can also test its composition, probing the energy density and particle mass of different dark-matter and dark-energy components. CMB data have already shown that ultra-light axions (ULAs) with mass in the range 10−32 eV→10−26 eV compose a fraction <0.01 of the cosmological critical density. Here, the sensitivity of a proposed CMB-Stage IV (CMB-S4) experiment (assuming a 1 arcmin beam and <1 μK−arcmin noise levels over a sky fraction of 0.4) to the density of ULAs and other dark-sector components is assessed. CMB-S4 data should be ∼10 times more sensitive to the ULA energy-density than Planck data alone, across a wide range of ULA masses 10−32-10−23 eV, and will probe axion decay constants of fa≈1016 GeV, at the grand unified scale. CMB-S4 could improve the CMB lower bound on the ULA mass from ∼10−25 eV to 10−23 eV, nearing the mass range probed by dwarf galaxy abundances and dark-matter halo density profiles. These improvements will allow for a multi-σ detection of percent-level departures from CDM over a wide range of masses. Much of this improvement is driven by the effects of weak gravitational lensing on the CMB, which breaks degeneracies between ULAs and neutrinos. We also find that the addition of ULA parameters does not significantly degrade the sensitivity of the CMB to neutrino masses. These results were obtained using the axionCAMB code (a modification to the CAMB Boltzmann code), presented here for public use.

6:59 pm: Karen Knierman
Tidal Tales of Minor Mergers: Star Formation in the Tidal Tails of Minor Mergers
While major mergers and their tidal debris are well studied, equal mass galaxy mergers are relatively rare compared to minor mergers (mass ratio <0.3). Minor mergers are less energetic than major mergers, but more common in the observable universe, and thus likely played a pivotal role in the formation of most large galaxies. Tidal debris regions have large amounts of neutral gas but a lower gas density and may have higher turbulence. We use star formation tracers such as young star cluster populations and H-alpha and CII emission to determine the different factors that may influence star formation in tidal debris. These tracers were compared to the reservoirs of molecular and neutral gas available for star formation to estimate the star formation efficiency (SFE). The SFR in tidal debris can reach up to 50% of the total star formation in the system. The SFE of tidal tails in minor mergers can range over orders of magnitude on both local and global scales. From the tidal debris environments in our study, this variance appears to stem from the formation conditions of the debris. Current surveys of the 2.12 micron line of molecular hydrogen, CO(1-0), and HI for 15 minor mergers, are providing a larger sample of environments to study the threshold for star formation that can inform star formation models, particularly at low densities.

7:11 pm: Jill Naiman
Visualizing Astronomy
This talk will focus on ongoing work with the visualization of large scientific datasets. In the context of my own research on the creation and distribution of elements heavier than hydrogen in helium during the formation of galaxies, an outline of the hurdles we must overcome to accurately and efficiently visualize these complex data will be discussed. Specifically, I will summarize progress on astrophysical visualization and analysis tools in both Blender (AstroBlend, www.astroblend.com), and new work with Houdini in collaboration with the visualization group at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

7:23 pm: Cameron Hummels
A Practical Guide to Creating an Astronomy Outreach Program at Your Institution
Science education is extremely important in our society, not only to justify the investment our government makes in our field, but to help build a rational and well-informed populous. Even though astronomy is an extremely accessible area of science with a great deal of interest from the public at large, creating an outreach program at your institution can be overwhelming if you don't know where to start. In this talk, I will lay out a clear list of steps for building a sustainable public education program, one that can be run by an enthusiastic faculty member, postdoc, or student. These time-tested steps have worked at Caltech and Columbia, and they can work for you and your institution.