Astrophysics and Astronomy

Title: Particle Swarm Optimization for Maximum Likelihood Estimation
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Soumya Mohanty

Particle Swarm Optimization (PSO) is a method for finding the global maximum of high dimensional functions that have multiple local optima.  It is one among a diverse set of methods inspired by examples of optimization in biology. For example, Genetic Algorithm (GA) is inspired by Darwinian evolution, while Ant Colony Optimization (ACO) is modeled on the foraging behavior of ants. Since challenging optimization problems are ubiquitous in every field of science and engineering, methods like PSO, GA and ACO have made a significant and broad impact across a wide range of application areas. The same is true for gravitational wave (GW) data analysis, where the basic optimization problem is that of statistical regression— finding the signal model that best fits some given noisy data. In this project, students will learn about PSO and apply it to challenging current optimization problems in astronomical (including GW) data analysis. This project is quite feasible for undergraduate students having a good background in programming and it can lead to publishable results.

Title: Characterization of background noise in LIGO
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Soma Mukherjee

One of the major areas of research in LIGO is called Detector Characterization. This involves looking at and characterizing the real data coming out of the LIGO detectors, both in real time, and off-line. Noise analysis provides feedback to the experimentalists so that the instrument can be diagnosed for spurious behavior. This provides a great platform for under-graduate students to learn about both the detector physics and the data analysis techniques.

Students will work on developing and testing methods to detect correlation between time series from different detector channels. Specifically, students will learn about LIGO data, methods of storage and extraction of LIGO data, MATLAB as a data analysis tool, methods of statistical data analysis and methods of looking at glitches seen in the data to understand their possible origin in the detector sub-systems.

Title: Pulsar survey and timing observations
Faculty Mentors: Dr. Fredrick A. Jenet / Dr. Teviet Creighton

There are several research opportunities based on radio frequency technologies that ongoing at CARA. In astronomy and astrophysics, students will be able to operate several of the world’s largest radio telescopes including the Arecibo and Green Bank radio observatories. They can participate in sky surveys that are searching the Galaxy for exotic stars known as radio pulsars. Students will also be involved in analyzing the resulting data in order to determine the presence, or absence, of the tell-tale signature of these stars. New discoveries made by the students have the potential to be a part of the galactic scale gravitational wave observatory being developed by the NANOGrav collaboration. CARA scientists have also developed the Low Frequency All Sky Monitor (LoFASM), a network of small scale radio telescopes that are listening for transient radio bursts whose origin is still a mystery. Summer students will have the opportunity to use the LoFASM instrument to search for such signals and gain insight into low frequency radio technology. 

CARA is also heavily involved in technology development associated with commercial space exploration, or NewSpace. Under the STARGATE program, CARA researchers are developing advanced radio transmitting and receiving systems using phased array technology. These new systems are being designed for small satellite communication platforms as well as spacecraft tracking during launch. RF based communication systems are also being developed to move data collected by a large number of sensor platforms using mesh style networks. REU students can have the opportunity to work on research related to these and other RF based technologies being developed at STARGATE.

Title: Time Domain Astronomy and Optical Followup of Gravitational Wave Triggers
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Mario Diaz

The research interest is in the optical detection of electromagnetic counterparts of gravitational wave events, mainly neutron star- neutron star or neutron star-black hole collisions. Another area is the search for and identification of high-energy optical transients, and optical follow up of Gamma ray bursts. The group works with a telescope that UTRGV-CGWA has in the Macón mountain range in northwestern Argentina in the high plateau of the Atacama desert and a UTRGV-owned telescope located in the Resaca de la Palma State Park which is near UTRGV. The telescope is a state-of-the-art small astronomical observatory equipped with a 16” Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, several CCD cameras, spectrographs and additional digital equipment. There are several short-term observational projects including debris observation, photometric observations of eclipsing binary stars and variable stars (i.e. chromospherically variable stars). The group members participate in all the processes from image reduction to applications of Machine Learning techniques to identify and classify transients.