Congratulations to this year’s cohort of undergraduate astronomy students who were awarded the RSE Cormack Undergraduate Vacation Scholarships 2021.

Three exceptional undergraduate astronomy students took part in research at a Scottish Higher Education Institution over the summer holidays. The scholarships provide research opportunities, support skills development, increase knowledge, and expand networks.

Meet the awardees and find out more about their research:

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Melania Mieczkowska

Melania Mieczkowska, University of Aberdeen
Scholarship Institution: University of Aberdeen
Project: Soft Gravitational Waves from Hard X-Rays

The RSE Cormack Undergraduate Vacation Scholarships allowed Melania to further her original research contribution to the field of quantum physics by moving into the next more advanced and challenging phase. She employed a detailed partial wave analysis to extend the previously achieved model to more astronomically realistic scenarios – including perhaps the most promising cosmic candidate for converting the energy of photons of light into gravitational waves: sources of “hard” (i.e. high-energy) X-rays produced by the immense gravity of a neutron star. Melania then further extended her project to the challenging case of astronomical neutrinos – elusive cosmic particles classified as fermions and have somewhat different properties than photons.

Once Melania finishes her Bachelor’s degree, she intends to do a Master’s and a PhD in Astrophysics. Whatever the future holds, she knows it will be related to physics.

A person in a forest

Teodora-Elena Bulichi, University of Edinburgh
Scholarship Institution: University of Edinburgh~
Project: Being (the) mean is not enough – stochastic effects in IMF sampling for Population III stars

When studying the early universe, direct observations (i.e. through telescopes) cannot reveal ‘the whole story’. For example, the first stars formed after the Big Bang, known as Population III stars, are of crucial importance: they created the first galaxies, polluted the universe with high-energy radiation and created the heavier chemical elements – including those vital for life to exist.  And yet, Population III stars have never been observed directly: as of now, all the information about them comes from theoretical models and computer simulations. However, most simulations reported in scientific literature do not account for stochasticity: random effects in how we model the stars, leading to biased results and making it impossible to fully understand and account for uncertainties in the stars’ properties. Therefore, carrying out stochastic simulations for Population III stars is very urgent and could even change our current perception of the early universe and how it evolved. Together with her supervisor Mr Andrea Incatasciato and Professor Sadegh Khochfar, Teodora implemented new models for Population III stars into a publicly available code and produced original results that accounted for stochasticity in the context of how Population III stars form.

Teodora is hoping to pursue a career in research: acknowledging it’s a long journey, she’s planning to enjoy every bit of it, starting with a Master’s in 2022.

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Selina Mather, Durham University
Scholarship institution University of Edinburgh
Project: Revealing the properties of radio AGN at ‘Cosmic high noon’

An active galactic nucleus (AGN) is the extremely luminous centre of a galaxy where there is lurking a supermassive black hole (SMBH) onto which a large amount of gas is accumulating – a process known as accretion.  Carrying out a complete census of the AGN population in the universe, correctly classifying their behaviour into different types, is critical to understanding the links between AGN accretion and how galaxies form.  Selina used new observational data from radio telescopes, combined with X-ray data which had not previously been explored, to study the X-ray properties of a large sample of radio-selected AGN. She investigated how different methods for selecting the AGN compared within her sample, and how the rates of accretion onto the SMBH depended on various other physical properties of the AGN – such as redshift, stellar mass and star-formation rate.  An unexpected distribution of quasar-mode AGNs was observed, which could hint at a link between radio-jet activity and suppressing the amount of stars being formed.

Selina is currently on her exchange year at the University of British Columbia, Canada. She plans on doing a PhD after her studies to pursue an international career in research.

more information on the scholarships

For undergraduate students studying astronomy to undertake a period of research