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NEWS | Jan. 12, 2024

NRL Student Opportunities Fuel Young Researchers’ Presentations at the 243rd American Astronomical Society Meeting

By Mary Hamisevicz, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Corporate Communications

U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) interns present their research this week at the 243rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in New Orleans.
Thousands of scientists specializing in an array of subjects and technologies will gather to present their latest research to the astronomical community. This year five young STEM researchers who worked with scientists in NRL’s Remote Sensing Division are showcasing their work ranging from stellar collapse to planet formation to supermassive black holes.
"It is exciting to see five talented young scientists presenting the results of their astrophysics research at the biggest US astronomical conference” said Tracy E. Clarke, Ph.D. of NRL’s Remote Sensing Division.
Emma Schwartzman, a Ph.D. student in NRL’s STEM Student Employment Program (SSEP), is presenting a talk based on her recently accepted Astrophysical Journal paper. This research takes a new approach to using observations of supermassive black holes at radio frequencies to search for signatures that would come from two black holes that are bound together by gravity. There are very few of these systems known but they are important for understanding how galaxies evolve in the Universe. Her work, under the supervision of Clarke, has a direct connection to the Department of Defense’s need for precision astrometry for navigation and time keeping. Schwartzman expects to complete her doctorate from George Mason University in 2025.
Genna Crom is a Ph.D. student who participated in the 2023 Department of the Navy Historically Black Colleges & Universities and Minority Serving Institutions (HBCU/MI) Internship Program under the guidance of Kristina Nyland, Ph.D. She is presenting her analysis of observations taken with the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) of radio jets that were recently launched by supermassive black holes in order to study their formation and growth. This topic remains poorly understood, yet has important implications for maintaining the accuracy of fundamental celestial reference frames used for navigation. Crom expects to complete her doctorate at New Mexico Tech in 2027.

“These students pursued cutting-edge research through four different NRL opportunities”, said Nyland, who mentored two of the students.
Undergraduate student Amaris McCarver, Texas Tech University, is presenting her recently submitted research paper on the discovery of a millisecond pulsar in the stellar cluster GLIMPSE-C01. During her Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP), Amaris used archival images from NRL’s VLA Low-band Ionosphere and Transient Experiment (VLITE) to search for pulsars in 97 stellar clusters. This new approach of using VLITE images together with images from several radio surveys identified multiple candidate pulsars, with the strongest candidate residing in GLIMPSE-C01. The presence of a millisecond pulsar (designated GLIMPSE-CO1A) was confirmed through re-processing of archival data from the Green Bank Telescope. Millisecond pulsars are born in supernova explosions and are spun up by consuming material from a companion star.
These sources emit pulses like clockwork, making them candidates to use in establishing a “celestial GPS” system for satellite navigation in space. McCarver is completing her undergraduate degree in Physics and Astronomy in 2024 and plans to go on to graduate school.
Rachelle Barrett is presenting the results of a project that she worked on with Nyland during the 2023 NRL and U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) summer research internship program. Her project involved calibrating and imaging new multi-band radio interferometric observations of a variable quasar discovered with NRL’s VLITE system.  Following her summer internship at NRL, Barrett worked on analyzing the results of the data with Dr. Nyland as part of her “Capstone project” at the USNA. Barrett is a midshipman 1st class at the USNA, where she is majoring in physics. Following graduation later this year, Barrett will complete advanced training for service as a nuclear submarine officer. She hopes to pursue a STEM career in physics or astronomy after completing her military service.
Daisy Zamora is a sophomore midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. Her project, under the supervision of Jordan Stone, Ph.D., entails converting a traditional telescope into an optical interferometer to enhance sensitivity to high brightness ratios at close separation. Her work focuses on a recently discovered system with evidence for on-going planet formation and could result in the discovery of a planet still in the process of gaining mass from the disk of gas and dust surrounding a young star. The techniques used in this project are directly related to naval interests in space domain awareness and precision timing and navigation.  Zamora is also on track for service as a nuclear submarine officer and plans to pursue a graduate degree in astronomy after her military service.
About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

NRL is a scientific and engineering command dedicated to research that drives innovative advances for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps from the seafloor to space and in the information domain. NRL is located in Washington, D.C. with major field sites in Stennis Space Center, Mississippi; Key West, Florida; Monterey, California, and employs approximately 3,000 civilian scientists, engineers and support personnel.

For more information, contact NRL Corporate Communications at (202) 480-3746, or

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