Undergraduate Research

Abby Tejera Rocha '25

OUR Featured Researcher: Abby Tejera Rocha '25

Photo credit: Jacob Strauss
Photo credit: Jacob Strauss

Abby (she/her) is majoring in Physics with a concentration in Astrophysics and Computer Science. She conducts research in Professor Jillian Scudder's lab. Her research is titled "Research about metallicities in different galaxies".

Please describe your research project: 

This research is conducted in Professor Scudder's lab in the Physics and Astronomy Department of Oberlin College and is focused on analyzing and comparing the metallicities within each galaxy and between them, seeing this information in the form of a fraction value and graphically. Metallicity is the abundance of elements present in an object that are heavier than hydrogen and helium. Most of the normal physical matter in the Universe is either hydrogen or helium, and it's because of this that metallicity values are so interesting and can provide lots of information. In Astronomy the word "metals" is used as a convenient short term for "all elements except hydrogen and helium". The research project is now mostly focused on analyzing the data obtained, and in order to do so we write code using a programming language called Python. Some other tools used are MySQL and Numpy Python library. The results of this analysis are represented in the form of graphs, showing the distribution of metallicities in different galaxies. This information can lead to future research as metallicities provide useful information. For example, they can provide an estimation of the age of stars as chemical abundances change over time because of stellar evolution. This research project is still in the step of continuing to analyze the data in different ways to generate more information and make conclusions from that analysis.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field? What are your findings so far?       

There are some previous papers which represent previous steps of the research in the lab. For example, the paper titled "Conversions between gas-phase metallicities in MaNGA", in which it's concluded that because the metallicity calibrations which are most subject to large scatter when converting into other methods are also those where the pair of metallicity calibrations has few lines in overlap, the emission lines are not perfectly predictive of each other. Other papers focus on interacting galaxies, multiplicity in dusty galaxies, and others.

In what ways have you showcased your research?

I have presented in the Winter Term presentations event, as well as the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Why is your research important?

The study of the Universe and the objects in it, and how they interact, always brings us a little closer to understanding its origin and its evolution as well as predicting what may happen in the future and all research, can shed light on something that we still do not know or that we know but something was missing or needs to be elucidated. This applies to this research where we seek to understand how galaxies change, and what role collisions between galaxies may have played in those changes across cosmic time, and the different metallicities values in each galaxy that also give us information about our Universe.

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to want to seek out research experiences in college?

I have always been interested in STEM and doing research. I’m a student in the STRONG Program, a STEM related program through which the students in it get to do research from the first year of college, and it was through this program that I met my research mentor, Professor Jillian Scudder. I started doing research in Professor’s Scudder lab during the Winter Term of my first year as part of STRONG, but once Winter Term was over Professor Scudder gave me the opportunity to continue being a researcher in her lab, and I have continued to work in her lab since then.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

Through doing research, I noticed a big growth and I have been able to further develop skills necessary for conducting research and have learned many new things. I learned how to conduct research by seeing how Professor Scudder conducts her research and how she guides me. In addition, I consider that I also learn by doing, for example when finding a problem in the code I am writing to analyze values of metallicities and finding the solution to it. I have learned that when doing research we constantly practice solving problems and even when we find a result, there's always a new question that arises.

By participating in this research I'm learning topics of Astrophysics that I love and I really appreciate having this learning experience since my first year of college and continuing to participate and learn. I'm looking forward to continuing learning about researching and developing skills that are going to be helpful in my development as a future scientist.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

To any students who also wish to do research in the area of Physics and Astronomy, or other areas, I would advise them to ask any questions they might have as there is many people at Oberlin that are willing to guide them through the process, and I would encourage them to reach out to their professors or the Office of Undergraduate Research to seek these opportunities!

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