The recent total solar eclipse above South America was over within minutes, but its lessons and memories will last a lifetime for three Bridgewater State University physics majors.
Sarah Auriemma and Rydia Hayes-Huer, both seniors; along with junior Daniel Smith, traveled to Chile to conduct research with Dr. Martina Arndt and other members of the eclipse-chasing team Solar Wind Sherpas.
“I am immensely grateful for the opportunity,” said Sarah, a Rockland resident. “I never thought I’d be able to be so involved and be treated like an actual physicist on the trip being alongside people who have PhDs and grad students.”
Rydia, of Brockton, added: “I feel like having the opportunity to go and do real research as an undergrad is precious.”
Arndt, a professor of physics at BSU, has traveled the world over the course of her career to experience a dozen eclipses. Thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation, NASA and Bridgewater State, she brought BSU students along for the first time.
The trio of undergraduates set up equipment, collected data and troubleshooted problems. That meant at least one late night for Daniel, when he helped determine that a tiny mirror had come off a spectrometer, a device used in analyzing light.
“You just have to have the willpower to stick with it,” said Daniel, a Halifax resident pursuing a second major in computer science and a minor in math.
A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon completely blocks the main body of the sun. It is a unique opportunity for the Sherpas team, which is led by Dr. Shadia Habbal of the University of Hawaii, to study phenomena such as why the sun’s surface is cooler than its atmosphere. The BSU students are also conducting their own research stemming from the trip.
“I wanted them to see what it was like to see an eclipse, to get to know and meet people in the field and to see science in action in a way that most people don’t get to see with astronomy in particular,” Arndt said.
Sarah and Rydia worked from Mamalluca Observatory while Daniel was based at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. Both sites are high in the Chilean mountains. The student-researchers learned to think on their feet as snow disrupted travel plans, along with other last-minute changes they had to face.
Daniel appreciated the opportunity to get to know scientists and soak up their advice as he works to advance use of a spectrometer on campus.
Rydia and Sarah, who are both minoring in math and computer science, came home eager to continue conducting solar physics research. When they first met in a physics class at Massasoit Community College, neither imagined their educational journey would lead them to stare in wonder from a Chilean mountain at a total solar eclipse.
“It gives me chills to think about,” Sarah said. “Everyone should go see an eclipse.”
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