12/19/2022 – Valparaiso, Indiana – Todd Hillwig, Ph.D., professor of physics and astronomy at Valparaiso University has received a $72,743 grant from the Space Telescope Science Institute for the project “A Treasury FUV Survey of the Hottest White Dwarfs.” The funds will support the hiring of student researchers for three summers (2023-2025) to assist with collecting and analyzing data, as well as covering travel and conference expenses.

Professor Hillwig is a member of an international team of co-investigators on the project, which is being headed by Nicole Reindl, Ph.D. at the University of Potsdam, Germany. The project is an effort to get a more accurate model of white dwarf stars, or stars at the end of their life cycle whose outer layers have largely dissipated into space. To do so, the team will examine the ultraviolet radiation (UV) of white dwarf stars and binary star systems of white dwarfs utilizing the Hubble Space Telescope — currently the only piece of equipment capable of gathering UV data outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

Acquiring sufficient time with the Hubble, which has seven to eight estimated years of operation left in its lifespan, was no easy task. While use of the telescope is allotted in 90-minute cycles, with an average grant of ten cycles to a project, this ambitious undertaking requires 100 cycles to gather sufficient data.

“We didn’t think we had a very good chance,” Hillwig said. “We thought it was a good proposal, and that we made good arguments, but we weren’t really hopeful. But we ended up getting awarded the time, which is fantastic.”

Previous discoveries in white dwarf star research have played major roles in our understanding of how the universe operates, including providing key evidence that the universe is expanding at a continuously accelerating rate. Starting in the summer of 2023, the team, including Hillwig’s student researchers, will begin gathering and analyzing the data over a three-year period, after which Hillwig hopes that those students will be co-authors on some of the journal articles that will come from the effort.

“One of our goals in the department is to get students involved in research projects,” Hillwig says. “There are more and more schools trying to do that. Our department has been doing this since well before I got here, and I think that we’re far better than average.”

Openings for student researchers will be posted in January. For more announcements and opportunities from Valparaiso University’s physics and astronomy department, visit valpo.edu/physics-astronomy.

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