Mary Gates Endowment For Students

Erik Solhaug

Mary Gates Research Scholar, Autumn 2021

Research Project: Predicting Emission from the Extended Gaseous Halos Around Galaxies

Project Description: My project seeks to predict the emitted light coming from the circumgalactic medium (CGM) which is the faint but massive gaseous atmospheres around galaxies. While most observations of the CGM are performed using so-called absorption spectroscopy, there is much potential in expanding our current observation methods of the CGM to what we call emission observations. This would enable us to get a much more complete understanding of the halos and how they affect the evolution of galaxies like our own. With the advent of more sensitive instruments that can observe this very dim emission – some of which are already underway – we need to investigate what wavelengths of light may be observable in order to optimize these instruments for CGM emission observations. Therefore, in this project I have run computer simulations to identify the most significant emission lines (wavelengths of light) coming from the diffuse CGM gas and developed models yielding intensity estimates that can inform future missions investigating the specific wavelengths identified in our project.

What have you learned throughout your research project?

Most importantly, I have learned the importance of good mentorship in research. Knowing when to ask for help when you are stuck has proved very important, and it is much easier to become invested in your research if you feel comfortable reaching out to your professor or other students when you need help understanding a concept or to get a second perspective on how to approach a problem. My research adviser has been really helpful in solving problems, fixing code and facilitating my understanding of the abstract processes we are studying. I have learned that when you embark on a research project, you must be prepared that it will be challenging to understand everything about the project during the first weeks or even months. To me, keeping close discussions with my mentor has therefore been key. Also, as a co-lead author of a research paper, I have learned how a project in my field develops from an idea and a project proposal to a published product that can provide useful new knowledge for a community of astronomers.

What piece of advice do you have for future applicants?

Find a research project or field that really interests you. Attend your department’s research talks and colloquiums, ask professors about their research, register for classes that are relevant to your research interests and spend some time exploring what you want to do outside the classroom. I think it is key to find a project that not only means something to others but also means something to you, and if you find a project you really enjoy, then it can even be a great motivation to pursue a graduate degree further down the road.