Professor of Physics and Astronomy Adriana Durbala accompanied two senior students on a research workshop this month at the renowned Green Bank Observatory. The National Science Foundation owns the facility within a radio quiet zone in West Virginia, featuring the world’s largest steerable radio telescope, the size of a football field.
After a three-year travel hiatus due to the pandemic, Durbala was elated to again bring her students to the NSF-sponsored workshop where they will learn about radio astronomy, present their own research, and work with faculty and students from a consortium of universities. The Undergraduate ALFALFA Team involves more than two dozen universities with top-notch astronomy and physics student research programs and has been supported by NSF grants for more than a decade.
Students can take part in research into the properties of galaxies with Durbala as early as their freshman year at UWSP. They will take on smaller portions of the work which relates to the larger, ongoing study examining the formations of galaxies, using radio measurements for the gas properties and optical measurements for the stellar properties of galaxies.
Durbala and her New York-based research collaborators published a radio-optical catalog of 30,000 galaxies based on the ALFALFA survey data in the December 2020 volume of The Astronomical Journal. These breakthroughs in our understanding of how galaxies form and evolve over time were possible with extensive, collaborative analysis and a high level of scholarship.
“It’s long years of research,” said Durbala. Her UWSP 2022 University Scholar Award recognizes her role in the national consortium and the critical understanding it provides for students she mentors. Working to advance their studies and our understanding of the universe; to date, Durbala has helped secure NSF grant funding through the ALFALFA collaboration to continue the UWSP participation in this important galaxy research.
“We’re studying the properties of galaxies in different environments and how much galaxies can be affected by interacting with others,” said Durbala. “The techniques we use will help us understand the formation and evolution of galaxies.”
Professor Durbala explained that the most successful students not only learn how to manage tremendous amounts of data, but they have a true passion for science.
One of those successes is ’22 alumna Miranda Gorsuch, who is now beginning graduate work at a UW-Madison astrophysics lab this summer. She is studying equivalent concepts to the work she did over the course of five semesters with Professor Durbala. Her final research poster at UWSP, “A Detailed Photometric Analysis of Early-type Spiral Galaxies in Pairs,” gave her perhaps the biggest takeaway experience that instilled her confidence for graduate-level study. Durbala provided direction and advice throughout the graduate school application process.
“She was always a pragmatic advisor,” said Gorsuch. “She talked to me about life balance and making sure to take care of yourself.”
Durbala completed her undergraduate degree in Romania in physics at the University of Bucharest. Inspired by the solar eclipse of 1999, she decided to continue her graduate studies in astrophysics. She got involved in an international conference and earned a scholarship to study astronomy and astrophysics in Turin, Italy. Her first teaching role was as a graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Alabama. Joining the UW-Stevens Point Department of Physics and Astronomy in 2009, Durbala has shaped UWSP students through her teaching and nurtured those who aspire to continue making discoveries.
“I do this for them [students], firstly for them,” said Durbala.