HPU Professor Receives NSF Grant for Astrophysics Research and Service Learning Course

Part of the project will help High Point teachers carry out their own observing and astrophotography projects.


HIGH POINT, N.C., Oct. 25, 2018 – The National Science Foundation, through the Division of Astronomical Sciences, has awarded Dr. Brad Barlow, assistant professor of astrophysics, nearly $350,000 to investigate the effects that small objects, like planets, might have on the future evolution of stars similar to the sun.

In addition to investigating planets’ effects on how stars change overtime, Barlow will be able to create a new service learning course and integrated research program.

Barlow’s research focuses on small stars known as “hot subdwarfs,” which are formed when a red giant has its outer layers removed by gravitational interactions with a nearby companion. Working with other astronomers at the University of Potsdam in Germany, he and the team have recently found evidence some hot subdwarfs are orbited by low-mass stars, brown dwarfs (failed stars), and possibly even planets. This grant will help Barlow and his students further explore the full impact of small objects on how a star changes over time and whether they can survive engulfment by a red giant.

“I am beyond excited and honored to have received this NSF award,” says Barlow. “But it truly is a win for all of us at HPU. Our department has worked diligently to create a nurturing and supportive environment for undergraduate research.”

Dr. Brad Barlow (center) and HPU seniors Thomas Boudreaux (right) and Kyle Corcoran (left) traveled to Chile this summer and discovered eight new pulsating white dwarfs, which are dead, remnant stars that show variable brightness due to vibrations.

The grant allows the creation of a new integrated research and education program called LASeR (Learning Astronomy through Service and Research). In this new service learning course in introductory astronomy, HPU students will learn how to observe with the robotic Skynet telescopes, which are located around the world, and carry out simple observing projects. HPU students will then team up with local high school science teachers to train them and their students on the Skynet system. This will allow teachers in the High Point community to carry out their own observing and astrophotography projects.

The grant will also allow Barlow and his students to continue their annual expeditions to Chile to collect data at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. This summer was Barlow’s fourth trip with HPU students to the Andes Mountains to observe the facilities. While there, the team discovered eight new pulsating white dwarfs, which are dead, remnant stars that show variable brightness due to vibrations. The pulsations are useful in helping determine important properties of the star, such as mass, radius, temperature and density.

“Our physics majors have had tremendous success doing astrophysics research in the past few years, with several having co-authored peer-reviewed papers and presenting results at national and international conferences,” says Barlow. “In many ways, this grant both validates all of our past efforts but also paves the way for the next phase of our work at HPU.”

Barlow will use the grant funds to attend and present research results at national and international conferences, hire a full-time, post-baccalaureate student to help with research and pay several HPU undergraduates to conduct research part time during the semester and full time during the summer.

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