As a third year graduate student, I'm currently involved in a number of research and outreach projects. I work in astrochemistry and am advised by Anthony Remijan at National Radio Astronomy Observatory ad UVa. My experience to date is primarily with spectral line observing at radio wavelengths. I study the wildly diverse chemistry of various regions of the ISM with a focus on larger organic species. I am also interested in developing automated reduction and analysis techniques for broadband spectral line data.
I am lucky to be a student during a uniquely exciting time for astrochemistry, as newly available broad-bandwidth telescopes are truly game-changng for spectral line studies. Observational astrochemists now have the first opportunity to accumulate the physical and chemical data needed to construct a more comprehensive picture of interstellar chemistry. Rather than simply targeting individual molecular transitions, we are now obtaining vast amounts of information on handfuls of molecules in only a few hours of observing time. In order for astrochem theory to progress, observers must carefully design observations to provide evidence of how (by what chemical mechanisms) chemistry proceeds in space. Clues lie in the relative abundances of certain families of molecules with varying physical conditions. My graduate research includes astronomical observation aimed at building a mechanistic understanding of interstellar chemistry, towards the long-term goal of extending the predictive power of astrochemistry.
Education and public outreach is an important component of my work during graduate school because the importance of education for myself and for others has been reinforced throughout my life. Astronomy seems exemplary amongst the sciences for the high value that the community places on outreach. This is one of the reasons that I was drawn to astronomy, and a large part of the reason that I am attending UVa. As astronomers, we have a responsibility to improve the environment in which we work, to engage the public, and to train later generations of scientists. I get great joy from participating in outreach and in dialogue with astronomers.