March 11, 2008

Derya Meral ’08 Presents Physics Research at American Astronomical Society Meeting

Her honors thesis focuses on the rotation of stars

Derya Meral ’08 (Bursa, Turkey) presented her research on the rotation of neutron stars at the 211th meeting of the American Astronomical Society held Jan. 7-11 in Austin, Texas.

Meral, who is pursuing a B.S. in physics and an A.B. in mathematics, has been working on her honors thesis entitled, “Three Transient X-Ray Pulsars as a Test of Binary Accretion Theory,” under the guidance of Michael Stark, assistant professor of physics.

Meral and Stark are trying to understand changes in the rotation of neutron stars. They looked at data collected by NASA satellites, particularly the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, which collects x-rays that are given off by various neutron stars. By analyzing how fast the intensity of x-rays change, they were able to measure how fast the star was rotating.

“Derya has done a lot of the work to make these measurements,” says Stark. “She has also studied the literature to understand the theory of how neutron stars rotate, so that we can test this theory with our observations.”

Meral says, “My goal is to look at accretion theory in more detail, test it using sources that have shown some irregular behavior compared to more stable sources, and investigate the limits of the theory at hand.”

Meral began to look at this topic as an EXCEL scholar with Stark. During the last two summers, their projects were very closely related to her current research.

“Neutron stars are fascinating for several reasons. First of all, one has to think about what a neutron star is. Imagine a giant ball of neutrons at nuclear density. A neutron star is as dense as an atomic nucleus and this makes it a very special state of matter,” says Meral. “Secondly, neutron stars stand in the crossway of many different areas of physics, from condensed matter physics to high energy particle physics. This is a great incentive for physicists to take interest in this topic.”

“[The conference] gave Derya the opportunity to see that the research she is doing as an undergraduate is comparable with research done by professional astronomers,” explains Stark.

Meral has served on the board of the Foundation for the Awareness and Alleviation of Poverty (FAAP) for three years, one year as the public relations officer and two as vice president. She is a McKelvy Scholar and currently serves as president of the Physics Club.

Meral is planning on continuing her education in physics in graduate school.

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