UH Hilo astronomy students present their research at UH systemwide symposium

The students conducted their research as part of the University Research Internship program headed by the Hawaiʻi Space Grant Consortium.

Group photo of students, mentors, and guests.
Students, mentors, and guests gather for photo at the the University Research Internship Symposium held April 21, 2024, at UH Mānoa. Front row, from left, are UH Hilo astronomy students Atlas Syncatto, Angela Claibourn, Mekhi Woods, Augustus Coffey, and Edward Ward. Back row from left, Pierre Martin (UH Hilo Associate Professor), guest Grace Todd, Winston Wu (UH Hilo Assistant Professor), Cicero Lu (NOIRLab), guest Emma Woods, Marianne Takamiya (UH Hilo Professor), Christian Andersen (PISCES, UH Hilo), David Jones (IfA-Hilo), Nicole Drakos (UH Hilo, Visiting Assistant Professor). (Photo: PISCES/UH Hilo)

By Susan Enright.

Students in the physics and astronomy program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo presented their research at a UH systemwide symposium held April 21, 2024, at UH Mānoa.

Undergraduate researchers Angela Claibourn, Augustus Coffey, and Atlas Syncatto each worked on individual projects, and Edward Ward and Mekhi Woods worked on a joint project. The research was supported by mentors from UH Hilo, Gemini Observatory, and UH Institute for Astronomy.

Hawaiʻi Space Grant Consortium logo with aerial graphic of Hawaiian islands. Blue and gold colors.The students conducted their work as part of the University Research Internship program headed by the Hawaiʻi Space Grant Consortium. The consortium’s mission is to expand educational opportunities for UH System undergraduates by awarding internships in fields that are relevant to NASA’s goals. The purpose is to support the national Space Grant agenda to help prepare future generations of space scientists and engineers, and to increase the understanding and development of space.

Pierre Martin, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at UH Hilo who is mentor to one of this semester’s interns, says the internships are an opportunity for UH Hilo students to be initiated into world-class research while deepening their knowledge of their field of study.

Pierre Martin pictured.
Pierre Martin

“Interns can also develop their skills in writing and presenting scientific results while broadening their horizons by discovering what their peers are doing in research across the state of Hawaiʻi,” says Martin. “Many students have commented over the years how decisive these internships have been during their academic path and in preparing them toward their next career steps, either in graduate school or by entering the job market.”

During the spring semester, students working solo during their internships worked 10-15 hours a week on their projects. Financial support included a stipend of $5,000, and a travel and supply budget of $1,000 per semester.

The two student interns collaborating on the joint project worked 5-10 hours a week. Financial support included a stipend of $2,500 for each student, and a travel and supply budget of $500 per semester.

“As faculty, we are all very grateful for these opportunities for our students and hope this wonderful program continues for years to come,” says Associate Professor Martin.

UH Hilo students conducted the following research projects during the 2024 spring semester:

Angela Claibourn

Angela Claibourn pictured.
Angela Claibourn

Project: “Uncovering Properties of Planet-Hosting Stars Across the Milky Way Galaxy.”

Mentors: Winston Wu, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, UH Hilo, and Cicero Lu, NOIRLab, International Gemini Observatory.

Angela Claibourn is a sophomore at UH Hilo majoring in astronomy and physics. Her research focuses on the question: “Are planet formation still suppressed around close binary stars and metal-poor stars throughout our galaxy?” The project is to answer this research question in a multi-faceted big data project that will expand knowledge of stars and the conditions for exoplanet formation. It has three concrete research thrusts: 1) crossmatching and analysis of two large star catalogs, 2) machine learning to predict stellar properties, and 3) the development of a web interface to share research findings.

Atlas Syncatto

Atlas Syncatto pictured.
Atlas Syncatto

Project: “Determining the Structure and Mass Distribution of the Laniakea Supercluster using Type Ia Supernovae.”

Mentor: David Jones, Faculty, Institute for Astronomy.

Atlas Syncatto is a sophomore at UH Hilo majoring in astronomy and philosophy with a minor in physics. Her research project is to derive an understanding of the structure and mass distribution of the Laniakea Supercluster, which will give insight into other large structures throughout the universe. It may also tell more about the Lambda Cold Dark Matter model, including how dark energy and cold dark matter influence baryonic matter and form structures like Laniakea.

Edward Ward

Edward Ward pictured with Galaxy in background.
Edward Ward

Project: “A New Analysis of Abundances and Diffuse Ionized Gas in M33.”

Mentor: Pierre Martin, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, UH Hilo, with support from the Institute for Astronomy.

Edward Ward is a senior at UH Hilo majoring in astronomy with a minor in physics. His project examines the influence of diffuse ionized gas (DIG) on measurements of star formation and nebular abundances in the nearby spiral galaxy M33. Gradients are derived from measurements of individual nebular regions within a galaxy. Since the slope of radial abundance gradients across galaxy disks can tell details about a galaxy’s history, understanding the potential influence of DIG on measurements of these gradients could have significant implications for the study of galaxies in general.

Mekhi Woods and Augustus Coffey

Two profile photos: Mekhi Woods and Augustus Coffey.
Augustus Coffey (cap) and Mekhi Woods.

Joint Project: “Galaxy Morphology and Evolution Pertaining to Asymmetry and Investigating the Correlation Between Galaxy Age Petrosian Radius via JWST Observations.”

Mentor: Marianne Takamiya, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, UH Hilo.

Mekhi Woods is a junior and Augustus Coffey is a senior, both majoring in astronomy and physics at UH Hilo. Their joint research project aligns with NASA’s goal of expanding humanity’s knowledge about the Universe. By using data from the James Webb Space Telescope, the two students observed, with the intent to understand, the early structure of galaxies. The main research question: “How did the first galaxies form, and how did we end up with the large variety of galaxies we see today?” By analyzing the structure of these early galaxies and comparing them to newer galaxies, Woods and Coffey explored how galaxy formation has changed throughout the Universe’s history.

Media release

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

Share this story