A&M-Commerce Physics Students Present Research at International White Dwarf Workshop

Students Eric Burns and Zorayda Martinez from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Texas A&M University-Commerce presented research at the renowned 22nd European Workshop on White Dwarfs in Tübingen, Germany, from August 15-19.

“White dwarfs are the remains of stars like the sun,” said A&M-Commerce Associate Professor Kurtis A. Williams, Ph.D. “By studying these stellar corpses, astronomers can learn how stars die and what happens to the planetary systems surrounding them. As such, white dwarfs provide a glimpse into the fate of the sun, Earth and our solar system once the sun has completed its life cycle.”

Burns, a second-year graduate student pursuing a master's degree in physics, presented a poster titled “The Initial-Final Mass Relation of Massive White Dwarfs in the Open Cluster Messier 11.” In his research, Burns analyzes images from the Wild Duck star cluster taken by the Hubble Space Telescope to identify newly formed white dwarfs and calculate the mass of the white dwarfs' originator stars. He also hopes to determine the composition of the nuclear ashes in white dwarfs.

“I'm proud of Eric's accomplishments,” Williams said. “His work attracted much attention, and he discussed his research with the poise of a senior astronomer.”

Martinez is a senior undergraduate student majoring in physics with an emphasis in astrophysics. She presented a poster titled “The Rotational Period Distribution of Massive Magnetic Field White Dwarfs.” Martinez analyzed data from NASA's TESS satellite to measure the spin rate for some of the most massive white dwarfs.

“Ordinary white dwarfs, like the kind our sun will be in approximately five billion years, spin at rates similar to Earth, once a day or so,” Williams explained. “Zorayda is an outstanding researcher, and one of few astronomers worldwide who has discovered that many of these massive white dwarfs spin once every hour or two, with some spinning once every few minutes!”

The biennial workshop event began in Kiel, Germany in 1974. Previous host cities include Napoli, Italy; Warwick, UK; Barcelona, Spain; and Montreal, Canada. This year's workshop was attended by 175 researchers representing more than 25 countries. The workshop proudly highlights the research of students and early-career astronomers, with no single contribution featured over another.

Learn more about the Department of Physics and Astronomy at A&M-Commerce.