December 8, 2008

Peiyuan Mao ’11 Studies Distant Galaxies

He writes about his radio astronomy research with Lyle Hoffman, professor and head of physics

Peiyuan Mao ’11 (Yangzhou Jiangsu Province, China), a double major in physics and mathematics, performed radio astronomy research with Lyle Hoffman, professor and head of physics, as part of the Undergraduate ALFALFA (Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA) survey program located at the Arecibo Observatory in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I have been doing EXCEL research with Professor Hoffman since last summer. It is challenging working with him, but the experience is definitely fun and enriching.

The project we are currently working on is ALFALFA, which is the Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA survey. It is an undergraduate research project led by Cornell University, making use of Arecibo, one of the world’s most sensitive radio telescopes. The project studies the neutral hydrogen of the local universe over a cosmologically significant volume. Our ultimate goal is to study the clusters of galaxies at the high redshift end, which are beyond the telescope’s upper limit. So currently, we are studying the clusters within the available range to develop techniques that will be useful in the future.

The reason that we picked these clusters is that their high redshift implies a significantly larger distance from our galaxy. Thus, the light from these clusters came from the universe in a much earlier stage of life. This helps us reveal the information hundreds of millions years ago and enables us to better understand the universe, playing an important role in eventually answering the question that bothers all physicists: where we are from and where our future lies.

It is definitely fun and exciting to be involved in such research and to gain some experience, especially since Professor Hoffman gave me much freedom in choosing the project and deciding the focus of the project. However, he is very demanding and expects a lot from me. I had to learn some new programming language and new software in the process, as well as having patience and diligence looking through hundreds of clusters and processing their data.

This is a meaningful research project in the sense that I have learned a lot not only in physics but also in many other aspects of science. Having done some research and gaining an understanding of the kind of life to expect in the scientific field, it helped me make the decision to attend graduate school for physics after Lafayette. It definitely will better prepare me for graduate school since I will have no difficulty going through the adjustment period. Working with the EXCEL program at Lafayette is definitely advantageous, since I would not be able to get such an opportunity at a big university with tens of thousands of students.

  • Physics
  • Mathematics
  • EXCEL/Undergraduate Research

posted in Academic News, Collaborative, High-Impact Learning, Faculty and Staff, News and Features, Students

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