Undergraduate astronomy students at Valparaiso University will engage in research that will further astronomers’ understanding of the life and death of stars similar to the Sun with the support of a $212,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Todd Hillwig, associate professor of physics and astronomy, who will lead the research program, said the federal agency’s Research in Undergraduate Institutions award will allow undergraduate students to conduct the specialized star research for three years.

“This will get students involved in cutting-edge research with results that can be published, introduce them to concepts and techniques involved in such in-depth work, and prepare them to be scientifically literate members of society,” Hillwig said.

Valparaiso University President Mark A. Heckler added: “We are very pleased to receive this grant from the National Science Foundation. Not only will this research advance our understanding of supernovas and related areas, but the research itself will involve Valpo undergraduates, working alongside our distinguished faculty members. We appreciate this recognition of our capabilities to conduct outstanding research and provide exceptional educational opportunities for our students.”

The project, titled “RUI: An Observational Exploration of the Late Stages of Close Binary Star Evolution in Low to Intermediate Mass Stars” will support Valpo’s observational studies of stars. Hillwig and his students will focus on using the SARA telescopes in Arizona and Chile to discover and study new binary star systems.

“The current thinking is that the lifetime of stars in dual star orbit is different, so we will be taking a closer look at these binary star systems,” Hillwig said. “What is especially meaningful about this work is that it will show us if the sun will go through similar life stages of its own.”

In recent years, Hillwig and his students have conducted significant research into the life and death of stars using some of the world’s largest telescopes including the Gemini Telescopes in Hawaii and Chile, the Hobby-Eberly telescope in Texas, and the SOAR telescope in Chile.