06 Jun 2012

Inspired by the stars – OU undergraduate students achieve pinnacle of academic success

Students used the OU's PIRATE telescope for research

Students used the OU's PIRATE telescope for research

Taking up astronomy for a hobby has led to a group of Open University undergraduate students writing two ambitious peer-reviewed research papers, set for publication in an international journal, which make an important contribution towards our understanding of close, interacting binary stars, and of magnetic cycles on rapidly rotating stars.

Student Tony Rodda explains more about the research he was involved in: “Our work investigated a particular type of binary star. It’s two stars that are very close together and in the process of interacting – and when that happens, very interesting physics occur. Our target star was poorly researched so through our project we have added to the professional astrophysics community’s knowledge base, and that is the biggest buzz of all!”

The group were taking the OU’s undergraduate course Astrophysics in which students use the OU’s remotely operable telescope, PIRATE, to acquire data and interpret this in project progress reports. Unusually, these students took their project reports further and developed them into two full-blown academic papers:

- Investigating the properties of the near contact binary system TW CrB by George Faillace, Carl Owen, David Pulley, Derek Smith.

- An investigation of GSC 02038-00293, a suspected RS CVn star, using CCD photometry by Alastair Bruce, Stewart Cruickshank, Tony Rodda and Mark Salisbury.

Both papers will be published in The Journal of the British Astronomical Association and are now available via the arXiv preprint server, which is universally used in astrophysics research the world over.

A member of the other group – which has plans to continue researching and publishing - David Pulley, said: “After the course was finished our group regularly met up on Skype to edit the paper, and we bought time on the Sierra Stars telescope in California to get more measurements. Elated is probably the best way to describe our feelings on hearing our paper was accepted. It was a struggle to get the paper through the two external referees but we persevered and it was a very worthwhile and rewarding experience.”

Dr Ulrich Kolb, senior lecturer in the Department of Physical Sciences, said: “This is a tremendous achievement for a group of very able and dedicated students who had no involvement with astronomy research before they started the OU course S382. Their work not only highlights the capabilities of our telescope PIRATE but also the potential of remote-controlled experiments. This is a great example of how OU study can lead all the way to the pinnacle of academic achievement from very humble beginnings.”

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