Undergraduate Ella Osby focuses on the evolution of stars

February 14, 2020

Ella Osby is a senior earning her degree in astrophysics at the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Osby is originally from Atlanta, a city that she admits is more known for its light pollution than stargazing.

ASU Now talked with Osby about her intellectual evolution: how she went from wanting to study both Earth and space, to focusing solely on the evolution of stars. School of Earth and Space Exploration undergraduate Ella Osby. Download Full Image

Question: What brought you to ASU and, more specifically, to the School of Earth and Space Exploration?

Answer: I’ve always been interested in both earth and space sciences, which is really what led me to come to ASU and to the school. I loved that I could combine astrophysics with earth sciences, instead of them being separate. That cross-disciplinary nature isn’t common, so the school caught my eye with that, because originally I was going to minor in geology, but scheduling was difficult. Then once I got into the research side of astrophysics, my priorities changed. I’m happy with where my concentration is now. Astrophysics is a field where there is so much to learn. No matter what research we’re doing, and even when the result is unexpected, it’s always fascinating.

Q: What is a memorable moment from your studies?

A: There have been a lot, but one I remember from the beginning is from Camp SESE. The campgrounds are far from Phoenix and the sky was so clear. The mentors brought us out to this big open field to do some stargazing. They had a bunch of telescopes for us to look through. That was the first time I was able to see the Andromeda Galaxy with my naked eye. It was wild. Especially coming from Atlanta, then moving to Phoenix, light pollution is always an issue. But out there it was so clear.

Q: Who has been a mentor to you during your time at theschool?

A: I’ve been working with astrophysics Associate Professor Evgenya Shkolnik in her lab since I started here, and I have learned so much that I wouldn’t have been able to without having that opportunity. Simple life lessons, like how to conduct research and navigate the field.

Q: Can you describe your lab work?

A: Well, I don’t necessarily do lab work but more data analysis. Currently my work has been on ultraviolet evolution of low-mass stars. I also helped with the calculations and calibrations for the SPARCS telescope, which is in its second year of development and is being designed to look at the ultraviolet variability of low-mass stars over a full stellar rotation.

Q: What is the benefit of studying the UV rays from low-mass stars?

A: They are the most abundant stars in the universe, and they live for a long time. So ... they are some of the most likely to have planets around them that could support life. Yet, they are relatively active, emitting ultraviolet light, especially in the early planet-forming stage. So these stars could possibly strip planets of molecules necessary for life, like water and carbon monoxide. The goal of my research is to understand how strong the UV rays are and how much they change over a star’s lifetime. This is a really understudied field for two reasons: People were once more focused on sun-like stars, and low-mass stars are dim and hard to observe.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: I’d like to go to grad school, get my PhD in stellar astrophysics and teach at a university. I like the idea of being a professor so I can always be hearing new perspectives.

Written by William Kennedy

Double major Victoria Froh designs her own path

February 14, 2020

Victoria Froh is in her junior year at Arizona State University, and in addition to captaining the women’s rugby team, she is working on a double major in Earth and space exploration and environmental chemistry.

This has allowed Froh to design an educational path all her own — a path that includes a healthy dose of the kind of interdisciplinary study that makes the School of Earth and Space Exploration an exciting place for undergraduate students. School of Earth and Space Exploration undergraduate Victoria Froh. Download Full Image

Question: Were you always interested in science, even from a young age?

Answer: Yes. It was always the subject I felt the most attachment to — the challenge of it. Also, my favorite teachers were always science teachers. I took organic chemistry in college, and it was fascinating. Just an intro version, but still!

Q: What brought you to ASU and to the School of Earth and Space Exploration?

A: I’m a National Merit finalist. One of the reasons I came to ASU was because it offers great academic scholarships, which made coming here really affordable, even compared to a state school in Wisconsin where I am from.

The other reason I wanted to come here was because the School of Earth and Space Exploration seemed like such an exciting place to study, as well as a cool community.

Q: What is a memorable experience you have had at the school?

A: Last year I took a course called Fundamentals of Planetary Geology. It was a pretty small class that had mostly graduate students in it. The semester culminated in us going on this really cool weekend field trip to Flagstaff and Sedona, where we hiked Meteor Crater and saw volcanic formations, and even slid down a lava chute. I don't know any other kinds of classes where you get to do something as hands-on and interactive.

Another cool aspect of the school that I was involved in was the first group of students to participate in the SpaceWorks program, which is essentially a string of consecutive classes centered on real-life workforce prep, giving students in all sorts of related majors the opportunity to learn applicable skills and work on project design teams. I was in the first class of students to take it, and it now has online students nationwide and a collaborative program with the NASA Lucy mission. It was a really cool way to get the experience of team involvement early on in my undergrad.

Q: Have you had any mentors in the school?

A: I’ve been in a research lab with Assistant Professor Maitrayee Bose for about a year now. She has quite a few undergrads in her lab that come from all different parts of the school, so we can all come together and learn from each other. It's great to work in an environment with such a range of interests. Not surprisingly, there are also a wide array of different projects going on in Professor Bose’s lab. The project I’m currently working on is looking at different meteorite particles with isotopic anomalies.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: I'm planning to go to grad school, but not right away. Especially with having two majors, I need a little bit of a break from school. This summer I want to get more experience doing research. I’ve applied for a bunch of programs. The one I’m most excited about is called DAAD-Rise, which would have me doing research in a lab run by PhD students this summer in Germany.

Written by William Kennedy