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2020 SURP Student of the Week: Michael Poon



Hometown: Markham, ON

School and Year: Entering 4th year, University of Toronto

Major: Physics and Astronomy Specialist, Math Minor

What made you decide to participate in SURP?

SURP projects cover a very extensive range of astrophysics topics. That meant if I was selected for a project, I would learn from peers studying both in my field and topics I’m less familiar with. It’s interesting to see how similar analysis/statistical techniques get used in different fields. In addition, since SURP hires many students each year, it is easy to create a community and get to know other undergrads, who will likely become professional colleagues/collaborators in the future.

What is your favourite thing about SURP?

SURP is rich with academic/professional development and fun events. Learning with an open mind is promoted, and there is a focus on often unspoken, yet important topics like mental health and diversity.

Can you tell us about your research project?

For the first half of the summer, I was working on completing an earlier project with my supervisor J.J. Zanazzi (and collaborator Wei Zhu). We wrote a paper about KH 15D, which is a binary star system with a surrounding warped protoplanetary disk. Looking at how the starlight from KH 15D changes over 50 years as the disk precesses, we fit a light curve model to understand physical properties of the disk, such as its size and inclination. Keep an eye out on the arXiv, when we submit this paper soon!

For the rest of the summer, I am working on a later stage in planet formation. After the protoplanetary disk stage, a planet may form from the gaseous and dust material. In particular, we are studying Jupiter-like planets that lie very close to their host star, called ‘Hot Jupiters’. We are using statistics to study how these Hot Jupiters have evolved to very misaligned orbits with respect to their host star’s spin axis.

Both these projects have a theme of understanding planet formation from different stages of planet life, which help build a clearer picture of the origin story of our world and home on Earth.

Can you explain how SURP has perhaps been different from your undergrad work?

I really enjoy how SURP projects allow for creative freedom in an academic setting. In research, since no one has worked exactly on what you have before, you get to decide the narrative in which you communicate your results. Crafting colourful plots and diagrams to describe new results is exciting for me, whereas undergrad work is more rigid and prescriptive.

What are your plans for the future?

In the fall I intend to apply for astronomy graduate school in North America. I’m currently interested in the field of exoplanets, both on the theoretical and observational side.


2020 Student of the Week Archive

Jeff Shen

Sarah Thiele

Lechun Xing

Caleb Lammers

Nikki Frazer