EAPS Senior Thesis Presentations

Helen Hill
Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Looking back at EAPS' annual senior thesis presentation day last month. Read about the research of our Earth, atmospheric, and planetary (but always stellar!) undergraduates.

Each year, graduating seniors majoring in EAPS present a thesis in completion of their Bachelor of Science Degree. This year we had a class of 7 students specializing in areas across the earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences. 

(Left to right) Zsuzsa Megyery, Shaenna Berlin, Kristin Berry, Ben Thompson, Phoebe Henderson, Stephanie Gibson, and Molly Martin - Image: Helen Hill

For her senior thesis, Sizing the X-ray Spectral Resolution Limits of the Regolith X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) Instrument at Asteroid 1999RQ36 (which contributed to the NASA New Horizon's Program Mission: OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission), Zsuzsa Megyery worked with advisor Sara Seager. Megyery defended her thesis earlier in the Spring.

Phoebe Henderson's thesis Rotationally Resolved Visible Spectroscopy of the Asteroid 1 Ceres concerned making spectroscopic measurements of dwarf planet Ceres to investigate the existence of a rotationally variable feature that had been detected in the visible spectrum. To support or refute previous findings about absorption features in the range of interest, Henderson spent six long, cold nights collecting data. In order to determine the asteroid’s variability, Henderson divided the rotational period of Ceres into eight phases, determining average spectra for each phase. Her results revealed very smooth spectra with the exception of a weakly rotationally variable feature between 6200 and 6400 Angstroms. The feature varied over the surface of Ceres by 2.5% with a mean error of 1.6%. Henderson's advisor was Research Scientist  Michael Person. Originally from Oklahoma City, she is off to Brazil this summer to undertake geochronology research at the University of Brasilia.

Working with advisor Associate Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry, Dan Cziczo, Shaenna Berlin, used an electrodynamic balance (EDB) in aerosol freezing experiments aimed at an improved understanding of nucleation in clouds. The experimental process underlying her thesis Preparing an Electrodynamic Balance for Aerosol Nucleation Studies involved levitating individual aerosol particles while raising their relative humidity until the particle reached its deliquescence relative humidity (DRH) and began to rapidly uptake water. Experiments were  successfully performed at room temperature using sodium chloride (NaCl) and ammonium sulfate (NH₄)₂SO₄, the results being found to compare well to literature values from other studies. The experiment was then extended to Mojave Mars Simulant (MMS) mineral dust for which no deliquescent point was found up to 93% relative humidity. Future experiments at lower temperatures will be used to simulate Martian ice-cloud formation processes. Berlin, who is originally from Jackson, WY, will remain at MIT for a 5th-year Masters in EAPS, to extend this project to lower temperatures and pressures and study aerosol freezing processes. Berlin was awarded this year's Christopher Goetze Prize for Undergraduate Research MORE

Kristin Berry's thesis was QX Pup: The Fascinating Core of the Rotten Egg Nebula. Berry studied QX Pup, a known Mira variable at the center of the (intriguingly named) Rotten Egg Nebula, using four years of photometric data in wavelength classes V and I, and two years of photometric data in R and B. Berry calculated a new period over 100 days shorter than the period determined in 1983 when this star was discovered. She also calculated magnitude drops in I, R, V, and B, and phase-shifts between the other three filters and I. Berry then  used these results to speculate about the possibility of a light-echo off the Rotten Egg Nebula and the conditions on Earth-like planets around Mira variables. Berry's advisors were Professor of Planetary Science Rick Binzel and Lecturer Amanda Bosh. Berry grew up in Lee, MA and will be pursuing a Master's degree in Applied Physics at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ. While there, she is particularly looking forward to doing a lot of observational astronomy.

Four of the largest strike-slip earthquakes in recorded history have occurred in western Mongolia. Ben Thompson has been studying the kinematics of this active deformation, in particular, the Shargyn Basin, which lies at the intersection of two 500km long strike-slip faults. The basin can be explained by a northwards step in one of the strike-slip faults, combined with an uplifted wedge at the intersection of the strike-slip faults. These kinematics are important in understanding broad active tectonic patterns, reconstructing past tectonics, analyzing seismic hazard and identifying potential resources. Advisors for his thesis Active deformation of the Shargyn Basin, a transpressional strike-slip intersection in western Mongolia were Assistant Professor of Geology Oliver Jagoutz and graduate student Claire Bucholz. Originally from Ann Arbor Michigan, Thompson goes on to graduate school at Harvard next year to continue his earth science studies. Thompson was awarded the W.O. Crosby Award for Sustained Excellence more

Stephanie Gibson worked with Professor of Planetary Science Rock Binzel to produce her thesis Comparison of PSF Fitting Methods for Determining Centroids of Stars. Gibson used four fitting models (Lorentz, Circular Gaussian, Elliptical Gaussian, and Moffat) to calculate centroids of twelve stars in a test CCD frame. She found that a small magnitude and CCD chip position effect exists for each method and that the largest variation between the models was .033 pixels suggesting that, if greater accuracy is needed for astrometric calculations, more steps are needed to determine the correct PSF (Point Spread Function) fitting model.  Originally from Florida, Gibson is applying to the University of Central Florida Planetary Science Ph.D program.

Molly Martin worked with advisors Professor of Oceanography Ed Boyle and graduate student Jessica Fitzsimmons in the Trace Metal Group analyzing seawater samples from a transect in the eastern South Pacific Ocean, a region with almost no micronutrient data, to determine the concentrations of dissolved copper and zinc. Martin used isotope dilution and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry to find the concentrations from the seawater samples. Her results are reported in her thesis Dissolved copper and zinc in the eastern South Pacific. Originally from Virginia, next year Martin will a attend a PhD program at the Rosenteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami.

Special thanks as always to Jane Connor, EAPS' Lecturer II from Writing Across the Curriculum, for her work supporting and coaching this year's graduating class. Connor, who provides one-on-one writing and effective presentation support to EAPS undergraduates as well as undergraduates in other courses, holds a BA in English from Swarthmore College, and an MA in Languages, Literature and Communication, with an emphasis on Communication Theory, from Columbia University.