Emily Forsyth and Out-of-this-World Research


About Me

My name is Emily Forsyth and I am a rising Junior. I am majoring in Physics and Astronomy on the graduate school path and I am also pursuing a minor in the Classics. I fell in love with physics because I enjoy the creativity the subject allows for in solving problems. I have always been competent at math but my real drive is for creative thinking, exploring, and asking questions. This is why I chose physics and astronomy.

I’m from West Chester, Pennsylvania, and the most important thing to know about me is that I have three dogs: Jack, Bear, and Benji. I am extremely grateful to be a part of the Brackenridge Summer of 2021 community and I am excited to explore across disciplines and learn about research through many different lenses.

Image 1: Hello! This is me at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland in the Summer of 2019.

My Research: Spectroscopic Diversity of Type Ia Supernovae

I am a part of Dr. Michael Wood-Vasey’s research group investigating the intrinsic variation in type Ia Supernovae. A supernova is a star “exploding” at the end of its lifespan. A Type Ia Supernovae is when a white dwarf star in a binary system explodes.

The quality that makes Type Ia Supernovae worth researching is that their peak brightness is very bright and consistent. This makes them easy to observe and compare. They act as something known in astronomy as a “standard candle”. A standard candle is an astronomical object with a known absolute magnitude (intrinsic brightness). Since objects further away appear dimmer, we can measure how far away a standard candle is by comparing the intrinsic brightness and the observed brightness. 

However, observations over time have shown that Type Ia Supernovae are not as consistent and similar as we would like them to be for their use as standard candles. My research investigates the differences that we see in hopes of growing the understanding of Type Ia variations and shedding light on how we can adjust and use our knowledge of their differences to still use them as accurate standard candles in research. Astronomers can use these corrected type Ia standard candles to measure the expansion rate of the universe and shed light on our understanding of dark energy and cosmology. 

My research involves using the spectra of type Ia’s to investigate inconsistencies. (A spectrum is like a unique fingerprint which tells us information about the astronomical object) (see Image 2). Specifically, I look at individual features in the spectra. Features in Type Ia spectra are dips that indicate a certain element being absorbed. When type Ia’s are at peak brightness, we would hope for corresponding features to all be nearly the same size. To investigate this, I used a feature analyzer to measure the features of many observed Type Ia’s near peak brightness and my current research involves analyzing the data I have collected. 

Image 2: An overview of what a supernova spectrum is and looks like.

The Brackenridge Fellowship and my Future Goals

My current goals are to continue in astronomy research and to pursue physics or astronomy further in graduate school. The Brackenridge Fellowship is an amazing opportunity for me because I am excited to learn more about other disciplines of research, to collaborate and make connections with people from different walks of life with different perspectives to bring to the table, and to learn how to communicate my research with others. As a nervous public speaker and STEM student in a research field full of jargon, the last goal of learning how to effectively communicate my research to others is one of the things I am most looking forward to getting out of this program. Along the same line, I am also hoping to learn how to effectively listen to and learn from other fields of research to broaden my own horizon. I believe that connections to other scholars and the communication of thoughts, ideas, processes, and information across disciplines is crucial to doing the best work possible in any study, and the Brackenridge Fellowship is an incredible setting for that collaboration to occur.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Ella Kane says:

    Love this! So interesting!

Leave a Reply