Recent Texas PhD Awarded Prize for Outstanding Dissertation in Astronomy

7 May 2008

SAN FRANCISCO —The Astronomical Society of the Pacific has announced that Anjum Mukadam will receive the 2008 Robert J. Trumpler Award. The award is given each year to a recent PhD graduate in North America whose research is considered unusually important to astronomy.

Mukadam completed her PhD in astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin in 2004 under the supervision of Professor Don Winget. She is now a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow at The University of Washington.

Mukadam helped build and commission Argos, a specialized instrument used with the 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescope at The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory. Originally conceived by University of Texas Professor Emeritus Ed Nather,  Argos is a “CCD photometer” — a photon counter that uses a charge-coupled device to record images. It measures the amount of light coming from stars extremely precicely.

“The time-series photometer Argos can be thought of as a science grade digital camera,” Mukadam said. “Images of stellar objects can be recorded every second if needed; this high-speed capability is useful in studying variable stellar objects. The time of image acquisition is obtained very precisely using a GPS clock.”

She elaborated that “Argos is used to gather data on all kinds of variable objects, such as pulsating stars, mass-transferring binary stars, and even extrasolar planets eclipsing in front of their parent stars.” Copies of Argos are now being built at other observatories around the world.

Mukadam’s own research uses the technique of stellar seismology to study the insides of white dwarf stars, similar to scientists who use seismic waves from earthquakes to probe Earth’s interior. Her work doubled the number of known “ZZ Ceti” stars, which have the lowest temperature of all pulsating white dwarf stars.

In conferring the award, the Society said, “the Board recognized your excellent thesis, ‘Ensemble Characteristics of the ZZ Ceti stars.’ The Board particularly noted your work on the … construction of Argos, an efficient, fast CCD time-series photometer, for your discovery of numerous pulsating white dwarfs using Argos, and for your explorations of stellar instability.”

The Trumpler Award consists of a plaque and a check, which will be presented to Mukadam at the society’s Annual Meeting Awards Banquet June 3 in St. Louis.

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