Our department currently supports two ongoing research projects, based on faculty expertise.  Many of our students also choose completely different topics for their capstones.  While we don’t necessarily have as much background in other fields, we always enjoy learning new things, and so we’re more than happy to support student research in other areas as well.

cropped-orion20130216b.pngPolygonal vortices in rotating fluids

Here we explore the startling phenomenon of the development of polygonal whirlpools in the center of a differentially rotating fluid.  This project involves both an experimental and a modeling component, and may have applications to astrophysics, in that it could provide some insight into the formation of the notorious hexagonal system above Saturn’s north pole.

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Principia College Observatory Transit Search

In this project, we are attempting to discover extrasolar planets orbiting a distant stars using Principia College’s 16” Richey-Chretien telescope in combination with our research-grade SBIG STL-6303e CCD.  While the midwestern skies don’t provide the same degree of clarity as, say, the top of Mount Palomar, our instrument has proven capable of obtaining ~1% photometry under good conditions, a level of precision which is sufficient to detect a number of already known exoplanets.

In contrast to other similar efforts, we are focusing our attention on white dwarf stars.  These stellar remnants are quite faint, but also very small; thus the expected transit depth is much larger than the transit depth produced by a planet orbiting a main sequence star.  A transiting planet has never been detected orbiting a white dwarf, and such a discovery, while relatively improbable, would have major scientific impact.