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November 20, 2019

Katherine Kolman
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Major: Computer Science
Minor: Mathematics

Congratulations to this week’s #WSGCStudentSpotlight, Katherine Kolman! Katherine is the recipient of an Undergraduate Scholarship award. She studies computer science and mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with hopes of pursuing a career in scientific computing after graduation.

Katherine began working as a student programmer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC), where she observed the essential role software engineers play in atmospheric research. This led Katherine to a research project Dr. Eric Wilcots of Madison’s astronomy department, investigating the effect radio galaxies have on their environment. A radio galaxy is an active galaxy with a blackhole at its center, surrounded by a disk of extremely hot, rapidly rotating particles. These active galaxies also emit strong radio waves, hence the name “radio galaxy.” 

To investigate the effect these radio galaxies have on their surrounding environments, Katherine obtained data about neighboring galaxies from the Dark Energy Survey, narrowing the search for galaxies within a certain radius of their target radio galaxy. She then wrote the program that reads the data, analyzes it for galaxy clusters, and converts this into what are called slitmasks, the locations of the galaxies to be observed, significantly speeding up the process of creating slitmasks. These slitmasks were then used in the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) to locate the galaxies and pick up spectroscopic redshifts of the target galaxy in order to observe the characteristics of the light emitted. In doing so, the galaxy’s velocity and the velocity distribution of the galaxies around it can be determined, giving us a better understanding of the group’s dynamics.

Congratulations Katherine, and best of luck in your future endeavors!

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