Undergraduate Research

Research is important at Wesleyan, and we have many opportunities for students to get involved with our active groups. Most astronomy majors spend some time observing with our 0.6 m telescope and CCD camera, which is used to study young star-forming regions and transiting exoplanets. Many get a chance to travel to observatories in Arizona or Hawaii. Others work on data obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA). Data are reduced and analyzed on our extensive network of computer workstations available to majors. For the more theoretically inclined, we also make use of a supercomputing cluster operated jointly at Wesleyan by the Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics departments. One of the advantages of Wesleyan for undergraduates is that we have a master's degree program which gives our majors a chance to work with graduate students as well as faculty as part of an active research group.

The culmination of research at Wesleyan for most undergraduate majors is the senior thesis. Here are some examples of recent thesis titles, which provide a glimpse of the sort of research that students can get involved with in our department. Since our faculty has recently expanded, additional opportunities are now available.

Undergraduate Thesis Topics

ClassStudentThesis Title
2016 Jesse Tarnas Kepler Transit, Secondary Eclipse, and Phase Curve Analysis
2015 Trevor Dorn-Wallenstein Characterizing the X-ray Source Population of M51
2015 Jesse Lieman-Sifry The Mysterious Case of 49 Ceti's Gas-Rich Debris Disk
2015 Dilovan Serindag Analyzing Kepler Exoplanets from their Optical Phase Curves
2012 Alexandra Truebenbach The Central Stellar Structures of Active Galaxies
2011 Marshall Johnson Exoplanetary Transit Timing Using the Perkin Telescope
2011 Adam Michael Environments of Low-Luminosity Active Galaxies
2010 Emily Leiner Analyzing the Light Curves of Transiting Extrasolar Planets
2010 Karlen Shahinyan AGN on the Fringe
2009 Anna Williams [OIII]-Detected ELGs at Intermediate Redshift
2009 Hanna Sugarman Finding Intermediate-Mass Black Holes in the Local Universe
2008 Evan Tingle Observations of the Solar Limb with TRACE and SUMER
2008 Arthur Sugden The Star-Formation-Rate Density of the Local Universe
2008 Jessica Kellar H-alpha Dots: The Nature of Isolated Emission-line Regions

Often, students will present the results of their research at meetings of the American Astronomical Society and/or in professional journals, such as The Astronomical Journal or The Astrophysical Journal. Here are a few examples of papers recently published by Wesleyan undergraduate student authors in collaboration with their research advisors. The student's name is in boldface.

Debris Disks in the Scorpius-Centaurus OB Association Resolved by ALMA, Lieman-Sifry, J., Hughes, A.M., Carpenter, J.M., Gorti, U., Hales, A., & Flaherty, K.M., 2016, Astrophysical Journal, accepted

Resolved CO Gas Interior to the Dust Rings of the HD 141569 Disk, Flaherty, K.M., Hughes, A.M., Andrews, S.M., Qi, C., Wilner, D.J., Boley, A.C., White, J.A., Harney, W., & Zachary, J., 2016, Astrophysical Journal, 818, 97

Spectroscopic Evolution of Disintigrating Planetesimals: Minutes to Months Variability in the Circumstellar Gas Associatedwith WD 1145+017, Redfied, S., Farihi, J., Cauley, P.W., Parsons, S.G., Gaensicke, B.T., & Duvvuri, G., 2016, Astrophysical Journal, submitted

The Interstellar Medium in the Kepler Search Volume, Johnson, M.C., Redfield, S., & Jensen, A.g., 2015 Astrophysical Journal, 807, 162

Black Holes at the Centers of Nearby Dwarf Galaxyes, Moran, E.C., Shahinyan, K.Sugarman, H.R., Velez, D.O., & Eracleous, M., 2014 Astronomical Journal, 148, 13

The Stellar Environments of Supermassive Black Holes in Nearby Seyfert 2 Galaxies, Truebenbach, A., & Moran, E., Poster at the American Astronomical Society Meeting 220, 335.02

First Results from the Wesleyan Transiting Exoplanet Program, Johnson, M., Leiner, E., Redfield, S., Poster at the American Astronomical Society Meeting 217, 343.05

A Population of Metal-Poor Star-Forming Galaxies at Intermediate Redshifts, Salzer, J.J.,Williams, A, Gronwall, C., Poster at the American Astronomical Society Meeting 212, 19.10

Research can also be done during the summer, as part of a job experience. There are many summer research jobs offered for undergraduates each year, and Wesleyan students have been quite successul at obtaining them. Wesleyan is part of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium, and this group has created many summer job opportunities over the years as well as sponsoring an annual student symposium and publication.

Where do our astronomy majors go when they graduate? Some choose to go on to graduate programs in Astronomy where they obtain a Ph.D. in preparation for a career in astronomy research and/or teaching. Here are some examples of recent students who have gone on to graduate school:

Wesleyan ClassStudentGraduate SchoolSubject
2016 Jesse Tarnas Brown University Planetary Science
2015 Trevor Dorn-Wallenstein University of Washington Astrophysics
2015 Dilovan Serindag Leiden University Astrophysics
2012 Alexandra Truebenbach Colorado University Astrophysics


Marshall Johnson

University of Texas



Karlen Shahinyan

University of Minnesota



Arthur Sugden

Brown University



Jessica Kellar

Dartmouth College


Other Astronomy majors choose to use their education in other ways. Being an astronomy major at Wesleyan says to an employer that you are smart, hard working and well prepared in technical and communication skills. Our students are highly competitive for a wide variety of post-Wesleyan occupations. Below are recent examples of what you can do with a Wesleyan astronomy degree besides going to graduate school:

Wesleyan ClassStudentOccupationLocation


Jesse Lieman-Sifry

Medical Imaging



Mark Popinchalk


American Museaum of Natural History

2008/09 (B.A./M.A.)

Evan Tingle


Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Chandra X-ray Center


Hannah Sugarman


University of Arizona


Anna Williams


Indiana University