Updated January 2012.

Please come talk to me if you have an interest in any of these projects. These are graduate level projects with some of them more involved and in-depth, and others appropriate for first year or senior undergrad students to jump right in to. Come by if you'd like further explanation or background.


  • Astrometry in the Orion Nebula Cluster

    The ONC is the most famous star forming region in the sky! Although it has been very well studied, many fascinations remain. HST data taken over several epochs can be used to determine kinematic membership of individual objects which is important for many studies. The last work of note on this was by Jones & Walker in 1988 and we can do a lot better now. Published data on radial velocities complements the two dimensional proper motions we would derive here to provide a complete three dimensional picture of the stellar motions. A further motivation for this study is an improved understanding of the overall cluster dynamics including velocity dispersion as a function of stellar mass and apparent age, which connects in with recent theoretical simulations of star cluster and binary formation. This project will require quite a bit of organizational skill and would be great for a motivated and dedicated first-year student or anyone beyond.
  • A radial velocity search for low mass companions and planets around stars with known debris disks

    This is a synthesis project of existing data taken over the past roughly 8 years which has already been reduced and analyzed to produce time series radial velocity measurements. It is just waiting for someone to determine what is interesting in the data set and write up some papers on stellar, brown dwarf, and maybe even planetary companions to nearby and young stars. Go for it!
  • Infrared variability

    Young stars are well known variable objects, both photometrically and spectroscopically. The phenomenon is typically studied at optical wavelengths and the observed variability is attributed to a combination of chromospheric activity and surface spot phenomenon (including simple rotation), accretion, and variable circumstellar extinction. Infrared variability, however, is less well understood. Although some of the above physical phenomena can also cause infrared variability, at longer wavelengths other phenomena involving the accretion disk are more prevalent. See Carpenter et al. 2002, 2001 and also Morales et al. (2011) for background. I am involved in a project with Spitzer led by John Stauffer to study this, and there is definitely room for a student-led project to develop from the fully-reduced data set. John Carpenter is also on this team and could advise you here as well.
  • Wide binaries and lithium

    The coevality of young stars formed in the same cluster or in the same binary pair is a common assumption. A recent paper by Kraus and Hillenbrand (2009) assesses this using the technique of locating stars on the Hertzsprung Russell diagram. Another age dating technique involves the depletion of the light element lithium, which is burned in stars but has not been created since the initial big bang nucleosynthesis. This project involves a literature and new data assessment of the constraints on binary coevality using lithium measurements. A first year student could take this on.
  • Stellar activity at 80-100 Myr

    Mamajek and Hillenbrand (2009) assessed the utility for stellar age dating of the R'HK activity index, which based on the emission cores due to chromospheric activity within the strong CaII "H" and "K" absorption lines in blue optical spectra. This project would involve filling a gap in the calibration which can be rectified through study of R'HK in the Alpha Per cluster. Existing and yet-to-be-obtained observations will be utilized.
  • Wide binaries and activity

    As above for lithium, we also expect binaries to have roughly the same activity level. Mamajek and Hillenbrand (2009) showed the extent to which this is true. However, there are few confounding cases where the apparent activity levels are very different among binary pairs. Someone should look into this further, perhaps an industrious first-year student.
  • Disk/photoevaporative wind tracers

    A new data set from HST/COS (ultraviolet spectrograph) is arriving along with complementary optical and near-infrared spectra. One project is to compare the lines and line profiles that are seen in this spectacular data to those from theoretical models which predict the atomic ultraviolet/optical/near-infrared line fluxes in an irradiated circumstellar disk around a young star. A relatively well-defined project would be to look at a few stars and establish which lines from the theory are actually useful from the observational perspective, and measure the line strengths and widths. The main collaborator on this project is in good contact with the relevant theorists so we can get new models run with different parameters as necessary, and iterate until we can constrain the physics of the situation.

    Another project based on the same combined data set is to look at the wind absorption line profiles, also comparing to models.

  • Extinction towards young stars

    This is a mess waiting for a dedicated someone to come along and sort it all out. FUV data can give an estimate for the column of HI. NUV and optical data have metallic lines from the interstellar medium. X-ray measurements also lead to N(H). And there are optical extinction estimates from photometry. Together these should be telling us a consistent story. The data mentioned above can in principle be combined to get some handle on the UV extinction law and how circumstellar + interstellar dust towards young stars may be different from that in the more general ISM.
  • The colors of young stars

    Read this paper and let's discuss what we do and don't know regarding intrinsic colors and how to place young stars in the HR diagram.
  • Science with the new P1640 high contrast specto-imaging instrument at Palomar

    This is a direct imaging search for low mass companions and planets around nearby stars. Postdocs Sasha Hinkley and Justin Crepp are working on this project but there is probably room for a bright graduate student interested in learning about adaptive optics and stellar, substellar, and planetary mass companions to nearby stars. Current first year student Trevor David has gotten involved in this collaboration.
  • Young cluster studies

    I have some optical photometric and spectroscopic data sets from Keck on young star clusters like NGC 2024, NGC 2068 / 2071, LkHa 101, MWC 1080, NGC 7129, and others. The various elements just need to be synthesized and written up as much of the hard work collecting and reducing athe photometry and spectroscopy is already done. The product would be along the lines of this paper, one of my own papers as a graduate student. This is a good first year project.

    I can also think of some projects having to do with 2MASS + Spitzer data on young clusters, which might be precursor work to spectroscopic studies with the MOSFIRE instrument that is soon to be delivered to Keck.

  • Stellar Ages

    There are a number of projects having to do with how we determine the ages of stars, which isn't as straightforward as you may have been led to believe from your course work. See this paper and this paper for some background and this paper for further detailed illustration of the conundrum. Another relevant article is this one
  • New Observations

    If you are interested in taking your own data on a project involving young stars, nearby stars, or galactic astronomy, I have lots of ideas for telescope proposals that we can discuss. Better yet, bring your own ideas!