Extracting Excellence from Traditionally Underrepresented Populations: Constraining the Formation of Low-Mass Dwarfs and BU Pre-Ma
Very low-mass (VLM) stars make up some of the least visible items in the Milky Way. But astronomers have found they are nevertheless extremely common and therefore a major source of ordinary matter in our galaxy. Some of the difficulty in studying how these stars form and evolve can be overcome through the use of large statistical samples. West proposes to do so by taking advantage of the raw, unprocessed data now available from numerous existing all-sky surveys. He believes it will be possible to mine the data for precise astrometry—measurements of the positions and movements of stars—for millions of VLMs and to create a large “proper motion” catalog. (The “proper motion”of a star is its angular change in position over time as viewed from an arbitrary, but very specific, reference point in our solar system, namely its center of mass.) He will be paying close attention to binary (two-star) systems in the hope they will reveal addition information when it comes to evaluating competing models of VLM formation. The education portion of his project involves creating a formal outreach program, the BU Pre-Major Program. The goal is to recruit first-year underrepresented students and expose them to research, provide them with valuable mentoring, as well as social contacts among their peers, and ultimately increase the number of students majoring in STEM fields. Such an approach builds on West’s personal experience with diversity programming and directly addresses what is perhaps the most critical transition point in the educational pipeline—the transition from high school to college.