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Andrew Sturner '12
Andrew Sturner '12

Solar Flares: A Summer at Harvard

Instead of basking in the sun this summer, Andrew Sturner ’12 is studying it at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Ma. Sturner, a physics and astronomy double major, is one of 10 students conducting laboratory research at a partner institution thanks to a summer grant from the Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center (KINSC).

Founded in 1973, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is a partnership between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and The Harvard College Observatory that works to study the nature and evolution of the universe. Sturner is working for the Solar and Stellar X-Ray Group under the guidance of Dr. Kelly Korreck, a noted astrophysicist. Emily Cunningham ’12 is also conducting research at the Center for Astrophysics this summer.

Last summer, Sturner conducted research at the Haverford Nonlinear Physics and Fluid Dynamics lab of John and Barbara Bush Professor of Physics Jerry Gollub, who is serving as an on campus resource for Sturner this summer.

While at the Solar and Stellar X-Ray Group, Sturner is studying the time evolution of the temperature of the Sun’s corona during solar flares. “The constantly moving magnetic fields on the Sun sometimes interact in a way such that a region in the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona, begins to store energy like a spring and starts to heat up,” Sturner explains. “The temperature builds and builds, until suddenly a massive amount of magnetic energy is released all at once and explodes part of the Sun off into space.” After this flare occurs, the temperature of the Corona cools back to equilibrium.

Sturner is in awe of the Sun and its majestic rays. “Solar flares are truly beautiful events, and the high-resolution satellite images that I work with every day never fail to be wonderful and awesome.”

He admits to enjoying his work so much that he sometimes sneaks into the office on the weekends just to spend extra time with the sun. However, Sturner is quick to add that not all of his time is spent in the lab. He is taking full advantage of the city of Boston. Along with the other interns, Sturner has visited the Boston Aquarium and the Museum of Fine Arts, as well as explored the local neighborhoods, including Chinatown. The highlight of his time in Boston was attending the Boston Bruins Championship parade after they won the Stanley Cup. Sturner, a member of the Haverford Men’s Varsity Cross Country team, has joined local running clubs to explore Boston while training for the upcoming fall season.

Sturner knows that his research is on the cutting edge of scientific discovery, and he is excited about pushing the boundaries of sciences in new and exciting directions. “Our ability in recent years to observe the Sun has heavily outpaced our ability to explain what we see,” he says. “It is such a complex and beautiful object, and we are just starting to get a handle on understanding its inner workings.”

--Jacob Lowy ‘14

The ramp from Magill Library with Ryan Gym and Sharpless Hall in the background.

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