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A summer research project: Oxford Astro

Richard Fern, a fourth-year physics undergraduate, was given vacation residence during summer 2013, to enable him to take part in the Oxford Astrophysics summer internship program. Richard has written this short report on his research, and the experience of being part of Merton's physics community:

Being at Merton gives you strong links to some well-respected researchers, who can be very influential when writing references, which allows many of us to secure great summer projects in Physics. I've now done two in Oxford. It's also very handy to be able to get vacation residence from the college. The quality of rooms varies from OK to very good, it's often far more affordable than other summer residences that I've heard of and most accommodation is on Holywell Street, which is a brilliant location, on a quiet street very close to everything.

I was a part of the Oxford Astrophysics summer internship program, which offers students a short but interesting project in Astrophysics. I worked with a researcher called Min-Su Shin on the vague area of research into globular clusters, very old groups of stars that orbit our Milky Way. As these stars orbit about the galaxy, they must pass through the disc of stars, gas and dust and we were interested in finding how much of the gas and dust the clusters take with them as pass through and what this might mean for observations of the stars. For example, if a lot of material could be deposited onto a dead star, it could potentially re-ignite the star.

A line tracing the 500 million-year orbit of a cluster of stars around our galaxy. Richard simulated the motion and then stitched together this video, using skills learnt exclusively during the internship program.

The Oxford Astro organizers were fantastic at integrating us students into the Astrophysics community. We were put on various academic and social mailing lists and actively encouraged to socialize with current graduate students at a wide range of events that went on. I even went to a couple of research talks and was made to feel very welcome. Furthermore, accessible seminars were put on specifically for the summer students so that we could get a taste for current research.

Overall, it was a great opportunity and gave me some priceless skills that will definitely be a great help in the future. I also had a good time working on an interesting project and — because Merton offers such easy vacation residence — many of my friends were also in Oxford over the summer with similar projects.