Student's research reaches the stars

WSU student Spencer Hatch, who spent his summer researching gamma rays of far-off galaxies, disseminates his experience Wednesday afternoon.

Spencer Hatch, a Weber State University student studying physics, gave a seminar Wednesday on his gamma ray research. Since the beginning of summer, Hatch has been collaborating with the University of Utah under the direction of professors Stephanie Le Bohec and David Kieda on the Gamma Ray Research Program.

Gamma ray research is a relatively new area of study for astronomers and physicists. Much of their research and findings come from the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System located just outside of Tucson, Ariz. The VERITAS research program is a collaboration between 15 different universities.

Hatch’s research concentrated on BL Lacertae, an active galaxy that was, until recently, cataloged only as a variable star. In late May 2011, Astronomers Telegram, a popular magazine in the astronomy field, reported that BL Lacertae’s multi-wavelength campaign was to ensue. Hatch spent the better part of the summer analyzing data provided by the VERITAS observations during late May and early July.

These observations covered a period of 10 consecutive nights for a total of nine hours. Hatch compiled the data that he collected and created a graph for the program that helped to reinforce previous data gathered by astronomers and physicists. He presented this data to Kieda and Le Bohec, who head the research for the U of U.

Hatch noticed a particularly interesting flare-up of the BL Lacertae on the evening of June 28. This flare-up is part of the continued research that Hatch will be doing for the program.

“I’m actively involved in the gamma ray community via conferences and various publications,” Hatch said. “It is rewarding to be able to contribute to something new and interesting that few people know about.”

During his seminar, Hatch invited the questions and input of those present. Hatch said his main motivation for doing seminars is to inspire and motivate undergraduate students to get excited about doing research. He said he feels that WSU lacks a strong undergraduate research program, something he is hoping to help change.

John Sohl, a professor in the physics department at WSU, said that Hatch is a remarkable student.

“Most students do not look forward to the department seminar and put it off to the end,” Sohl said, “but Hatch loves doing the seminars and sharing what he has learned.”

Sohl didn’t work directly with Hatch on this particular project, but has worked on a number of other projects with him, and praised Hatch’s excitement and work ethic. Hatch found out about the job opening in the VERITAS research program from Colin Inglefield of the WSU physics department. Hatch has continued working with the research program this fall.

Stacey Palen, a professor in the physics department, was also in attendance at the seminar.

“Unfortunately, I was not able to work on this project with him, but I did help him put together his talk for the seminar,” Palen said.

Hatch’s research on BL Lacertae is only one of the research projects he is working on. He is also working with Sohl and the U of U on HARBOR, a high-altitude balloon program, to study the atmospheric inversions that occur during Utah winters.

“This is a project that he went to the U of U to assist them of his own volition,” Sohl said.

Hatch said he hopes that, through his research and seminars, he can help inspire other undergraduates to participate in research projects and ultimately conduct some of their own at WSU.