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

Class Student Thesis Title
2023 Anna Fehr Parametric Modeling of Debris Disk Density Structure for ARKS
2023 Seth Larner Finding and Characterizing True Seyfert Two AGN in Archival Chandra and SDSS Data
2023 Eric Rumsfeld Measuring Dynamical Masses of Gas-Bearing Debris Disk Host Stars
2023 Joshua Grajales

Dynamical Mass Measurements: Molecular Gas Emission in HD121617’s Debris Disk

2022 Cassidy Soloff Unseen Worlds: A Search for Exoplanet Transits of Bright Early-Type Stars
2021 Benjamin Martinez Black Hole Activity in the Local Universe
2021 Kimberly Paragas The Atmospheric Escape of Close-In Gas Giant Exoplanets
2021 Mason Tea Searching or Black Holes XRBs in the Local Universe
2021 David Vizgan A Dual-Wavelength Study of the AU Mic Debris Disk
2021 Molly Watstein A 'Nu' Approach to AGN Luminosity
2020 Gil Garcia 'Dramatic, Long-Term Variability in AGN'
2020 Hunter Vannier Mapping The Local Interstellar Medium
2019 Robert Baldocchi Bobby's Big Box of Galaxies
2019 Michael Henderson Precision Photometry of Faint White Dwarf Stars from K2 Data
2018 Cail Daley Vertical Structure & Dynamical Mass of AU Mic's Debris Disk
2018 Hannah Fritze Hunting Intermediate Mass Black Holes in the Nearby Universe
2018 Aylin Garcia Soto Dramatic X-ray and Optical Variability in AGNs
2017 Julian Dann Our Stellar Neighborhood: ANalysis of the LISM Using Hubble
2017 Girish Duvvuri Necroplanetology: Disrupted Material Transiting WD1145+017
2017 Simon Wright Exploring the High Energy Sky
2017 Julia Zachary Measuring the Local ISM with HST/STIS and Voyager
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.

Optical and Radio Observations of the T Tauri Binary KH 15D (V582 Mon): Stellar Properties, Disk Mass Limit, and Discovery of a CO Outflow, Aronow, R.A., Herbst., W., Hughes, A.M., Wilner, D.J., & Winn, J.N., 2018, Astronomical Journal, 155, 47

Radial Surface Density Profiles of as and Dust in the Debris Disk around 49 Ceti, Hughes, A.M., Lieman-Sifry, J., Flaherty, K.M., Daley, C.M., Roberge, A., Kospal, A., Moor, A., Kamp, I., Wilner, J., Andrews, S.M., Kastner, J.H., & Abraham, P., 2017, Astrophysical Journal, 839, 86

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, 828, 26

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 Disintegrating Planetesimals: Minutes to Months Variability in the Circumstellar Gas Associated with WD 1145+017, Redfield, S., Farihi, J., Cauley, P.W., Parsons, S.G., Gaensicke, B.T., & Duvvuri, G., 2017, Astrophysical Journal, 839, 42

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 Class Student Graduate School Subject
2023 Anna Fehr Harvard Astronomy
2023 Seth Larner Washington U St. Louis Astronomy
2023 Hannah Lewis UNC Quantitative Psychology
2023 Eric Rumsfeld UC Irvine Astronomy
2022 Cassidy Soloff University of Arizona Atmospheric Sciences
2022 Jack Root UCLA Astrophysics
2021 Kimberly Paragas CalTech Planetary Sciences
2021 David Vizgan Fullbringht Scholar Cosmic Dawn Center/
U Illinois
2021 Benjamin Martinez Clemson Atmospheric Science
2021 Terra Ganey UCSC Earth & Planetary Sciences
2020 Hunter Vannier Perdue Planetary Science
2020 Fallon Konow Georgia State Astronomy
2019 Michael Henderson Clemson Physics
2019 Robert Baldocchi San Diego State Astronomy
2019 Allison Quintana Brown University ScM Candidate in Biostatistics
2018 Anthony Santini Wesleyan Astronomy
2018 Hannah Fritze University of Utah Physics
2018 Cail Daley U of Illinois Astronomy
2018 Aylin Garcia Soto Dartmouth Astrophysics
2017 Girish Duvvuri University of Colorado Astrophysics
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 Class Student Occupation Location


Molly Watstein

LMT Community Support Scientist

UMass Amherst


Mason Tea

I&T Systems Engineer  working on JWS

Space Telescope Science Institute


Dominik Sobieszek

Associate Software Engineer

Northrop Grumman


Daniel Helfman

System Engineering Intern

Lockheed Martin


Gilberto Garcia

Research Associate 

Loyola University Chicago


Ryan Adler-Levine

Software Engineer



Simon Wright

High school physics teacher

Washington, D.C.


Jesse Lieman-Sifry

Medical Imaging



Mark Popinchalk


American Museum 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