Student research sheds light on variable stars

Students from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma attend the 19th Annual North Texas Area Student Conference at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. They are (from left) Manish Puri, Amber Trawick, Laura Bennett, Dao Thong Lim, Rachel Bennett, Thayne McCage and Reed Bryant, accompanied by Dr. J. C. Sanders (far right) and Dr. Quan Tran (not pictured). Laura Bennett and Lim presented research on variable stars collected at the USAO Habitat Area.

Student research sheds light on variable stars


At a regional conference recently, two students presented research made possible by recent gifts to bolster the science programs at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.

Oklahoma City resident Laura Bennett, who graduated at the end of the spring term with a degree in physics, and Dao Thong Lim, a physics and mathematics senior from Chickasha, traveled to Midwestern University on April 18 to present separate research on variable stars at the annual North Texas Area Student Conference.

They were joined by two faculty sponsors, Dr. J.C. Sanders, assistant professor of physics, and Dr. Quan Tran, assistant professor of mathematics, as well as five other students.

Bennett’s paper, “Variable Stars, Astrophotography, and Photometric Analysis,” addressed various techniques for identifying variable stars and discussed data acquisition and processing as well as the results of her analysis.

Bennett explained that a variable star is one that changes in brightness over a period of time.

“There are many reasons that it happens,” Bennett said. “Sometimes the reason is mundane, but sometimes it’s because there is another object in between. That’s how planets outside our solar system can be found.”

Lim’s paper, “The Challenges Associated with Variable Star Observations,” explained the trials in gathering data on variable stars, methods to overcome those difficulties and the results of his observations.

The pair gathered their primary research using astronomy equipment installed at the USAO Habitat Area using funds raised during the university’s Ready, Set, NOW Campaign.

Sanders mentored the students’ research. He said that they have been instrumental in the operation and improvement of the observatory.

“It has been a pleasure to work with Dao Thong and Laura,” Sanders said.

“When Dao Thong and Laura began their research, they were nervous and worried about such a large project.  It is remarkable how far they have progressed in just one year. By the end of their research, they were coming up with clever ways to adapt and improve their work and needed little, if any, guidance from me. I was proud of the presentations they gave at the conference.”

Both students completed their research as part of USAO’s Research Endorsement program.

The 10-hour sequence of courses guides students through all phases of research — from learning research methods and tools across academic disciplines, to working one-on-one with a faculty research supervisor, to presenting their work at conferences.

Students who complete the project earn a Research Endorsement credential on their transcripts. 

Bennett said that the process gave her invaluable tools for her transition into graduate school.

“It gave me experience in terms of doing independent research,” Bennett said. “That provided me with insights I couldn’t get simply writing a paper and was directly applicable to my graduate school experience.”

Bennett accepted an offer to join the medical physics program at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston with a full tuition and fee waiver and a stipend.

Her graduate program work will be conducted at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the premier cancer institutions in the world.

Lim said he enjoyed the rigors of the process from conception to presentation.

“It’s a very different way of thinking about things,” Lim said. “It took a lot of patience and helped sharpen my work ethic in relation to research. Not only did it give me a taste of what real research is like, but developing the presentation is a valuable skill in and of itself.

“Sanders prepared us really well. By the time we got to the conference, I was relaxed and enjoyed presenting.”

The Ready, Set, NOW Campaign is the university’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign and was launched in November of 2012.

Improvements to the USAO Habitat Area are part of a larger push to bolster STEM programs at the university through the purchase of new equipment and the renovation of laboratories and classrooms in Austin Hall.

Recent major gifts include $25,000 from the Kirkpatrick Foundation; $15,000 from HSI Sensing; and a leadership gift from Larry and Diana Brown.

The North Texas Area Student Conference (NTASC) is designed to provide a forum for graduate and undergraduate students in computer-related studies to present their projects, research efforts, or classroom experience to their peers.