NEW PROJECT BRINGS STARS TO HAVERFORD
The physics department at Haverford is abuzz with its newest endeavor, an out-of-this world computer project. Physics Professor Froney Crawford is using an innovative system of computers to study pulsars. According to Crawford,“Pulsars are rapidly rotating stars that are very unusual from a physics perspective.” These celestial objects have strong magnetic fields. They are a billion times denser and more massive than anything found on earth.“Pulsars can teach us about fundamental physics,” he says. Pulsars are also beneficial to scientists who want to understand new developments in physics. Crawford is using the computer cluster to search for new pulsars. It is made up of 20 computers, all located in Koshland Integrated National Sciences Center, and it processes data from the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. Using a cluster to analyze data is not an unique approach. This particular project is modeled on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) cluster. However, Crawford's technique of using older machine is uncommon.“It's cheaper to use computers no one wants anymore,” he says. He believes this cost-cutting avenue helped get the project off the ground. The machines work simultaneously, with each computer scanning for a specific piece of data. If a pulsar is present, it gives off a signature. Computers are needed to read these signatures, because pulsars cannot be seen from earth. Crawford is pleased to announce the success of the project.“We've found some new pulsars.” Follow-up studies are on the way. Computer science professor John Dougherty is assisting Crawford with the project. Students from Haverford, Wesleyan and Vassar spent the summer working with the cluster, as well.“They received a taste of what it's like to conduct physics research,” says Crawford. Their participation was primarily for personal enrichment. However, one Haverfordian worked on the project for his senior thesis. Once the project is completed, the cluster will remain at the KINSC. It will be available for students and professors in departments such as biology, chemistry, physics, and computer science to use for research. The project received funding from both internal and external sources. Haverford's faculty support fund, faculty research fund, and the Louis Green fund for student research provided some support. Financing also came from the KECK Northeast Astronomy Fund, which sponsors summer programs for students, the National Science Foundation, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.