Welcome to our Lab

My research is in the general area of the formation of the Milky Way Galaxy and stellar populations.  I am particularly interested in improving the understanding of the old component of stars residing in the Galactic bulge.   As the principal investigator of the Bulge Radial Velocity Assay of RR Lyrae stars (BRAVA-RR), most of my current projects include analyzing the motions and properties of old stellar populations in the Galactic bulge.  My research projects involve combining observational spectra or images of stars with theoretical models to further our understanding of the build-up of the Milky Way Galaxy.


Nov 2020:

One of my undergraduate research students, Riley Crabb, won the best physics and engineering poster at the Murdock College Science Research Conference for research carried out over the summer.

Oct 2020:

The Blanco DECam Bulge Survey, of which I am a key member, has generated some nice press with our first data release, see the NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory article as well as an article from NASA-Hubble.

A short movie of our survey is also available.

Sept 2020:

Evan Butler, Olympia High School student, and I completed our analysis of the globular cluster ESO 456-SC38.  It was published in The Astronomical Journal, and so full paper  can be found here.  Some popular astronomy websites, such as Phys.Org and DualDove.com also reported on our results.

Aug 2020:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded my proposal ($187,394) to carry out a project entitled: The BRAVA-RR Survey: uncovering an ancient Spheroidal Bulge in the Milky Way.  Details can be found here.

Apr 2020:

My 2019 summer students have had their research accepted for publication.  We have released the largest catalog of motions of RR Lyrae stars in the Galactic bulge.  We have found that the oldest stars in the center of the Galaxy consist of at least two distinct epochs of star formation, supporting the idea that our bulge could harbor a largely hidden accreted component.

Apr 2019:

My 2018 summer students have had their research accepted for publication.  We searched for evidence of a supposed tidally disrupted cluster of stars in the bulge.  No recent tidally disrupted cluster has been found in the bulge to date, so this was an interesting and curious potential find.  We were not able to confirm that the supposed tidally disrupted stars are moving together, refuting the idea of recent tidal disruption in the bulge.    

July 2018:

The Space Science Review book entitled Astronomical Distance Determination in the Space Age (publisher Springer Nature) has published a chapter I wrote entitled “Impact of Distance Determinations on Galactic Structure.  II.  Old Tracers”.

June 2018:

I was asked to give a press conference at the American Astronomical Society focusing on my most recent paper, that was published together with my P365 class here at SMU.

May 2018: 

My Astrophysics (P365) classes calculations of motions of stars through the Milky Way galaxy was accepted for publication.  We found that the globular cluster NGC 6441 has extra-tidal stars, in agreement with the notion that NGC 6441 was once more massive in the past and is slowly losing stars as it is traveling through the massive Milky Way Galaxy.

Apr 2018:

I was awarded a Murdock College Research Program for Natural Sciences Award to carry out the research project titled “Bulge Radial Velcoity Assay – RR Lyrae (BRAVA-RR) Survey: Mapping the Bulge with RR Lyrae Stars.” (2017321:MNL:2/22/2018)

M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, created by the will of the late Melvin. J. (Jack) Murdock, provides grants to organizations in five states of the Pacific Northwest—Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington—that seek to strengthen the region’s educational and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways. More information is available at www.murdocktrust.org.