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2020 SURP Student of the Week: Caleb Lammers


Name: Caleb Lammers

Hometown: Thunder Bay, Ontario

Program: Going into second year at the University of Toronto (Math and Physics)

What made you decide to participate in SURP?

I’ve long had an interest in physics, and I was fortunate to get involved with research early on when I was in high school. However, my interest in astronomy and astrophysics is more recent. This past year, I was introduced to astronomy in AST199 with Prof. Howard Yee. The class was small, which gave students the opportunity to read and learn on their own – which I really enjoyed. When I asked Prof. Yee about research opportunities in astronomy and astrophysics, he directed me to the SURP program. As an avid programmer, I was especially excited about the SURP program when I learned that many of the research projects involved extensive programming. Weekly lectures on exciting topics, a computing course with CITA to kick off the summer, and interacting with like-minded students from around the world made the choice obvious.

What is your favourite thing about SURP?

There are many awesome things about SURP, so it is difficult to choose a favourite! My supervisor, Dr. Kartheik Iyer, is incredibly supportive and knowledgable. Dr. Iyer gives me the freedom to explore new directions that interest me and is always available to offer his help, for which I am very grateful. I have also enjoyed meeting other SURP students and hearing about their research projects for the summer. One of my favourite parts about SURP is the opportunity to participate in a variety of interesting lectures and workshops. The breadth of topics in astronomy and astrophysics studied at the University of Toronto is incredible, and SURP has exposed me to many of them.

Can you tell us about your research project?

I am studying the quenching of star-formation in galaxies due to feedback from active supermassive black holes that are sometimes found at the centres of galaxies. Astronomers observe that most galaxies evolve from star-forming to non-star-forming over the course of their lives. However, the mechanism of this evolution is not fully understood. One of the proposed quenching mechanisms is the thermal and kinetic energy emitted from some central supermassive black holes (these are called active galactic nuclei or AGN), which can heat up or expel gas from the galaxy, thereby preventing it from forming new stars. In my work, I am reconstructing detailed star-formation histories of galaxies in the SDSS-IV MaNGA astronomical survey using a technique known as dense basis spectral energy distribution fitting. By comparing the star-formation histories of galaxies hosting AGNs to similar galaxies without AGNs, we can develop a better understanding of star-formation quenching due to AGN – including the timescale over which it occurs and how it affects different parts of the galaxy.

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

Usually, courses follow a structured schedule of going to lectures and completing assignments and exams. However, my research project has been much more of a winding path; not every problem can be resolved, and help or additional resources are sometimes required. Additionally, progress in research is not always as swift or easily measured as checking questions off an assignment. Though this has made my research project at SURP more challenging, in many ways I feel that it is more rewarding as a result. SURP has also given me the opportunity to work closely with a supervisor, which is rare in undergraduate coursework.

What are your plans for the future?

In the future, I plan to continue studying physics with the goal of pursuing graduate studies. I have really enjoyed my work at SURP and I hope that I will have the opportunity to do more research in astronomy and astrophysics. Cosmology is also an exciting field, and I am interested in exploring other areas of physics as well. No matter where I end up, however, I hope to be challenged by interesting science on a day-to-day basis, as I have been at SURP.


2020 Student of the Week Archive

Jeff Shen

Sarah Thiele

Lechun Xing