Summer Centered: Reilly Milburn ’19 and Justin Otter ’19 Simulate Galaxies in the Sunshine State
At the University of Florida in Gainesville, the two rising juniors are using supercomputer models to learn about the evolution of the universe’s early galaxies.
Reilly Milburn ’19 and Justin Otter ’19 may be spending their summer in the sunshine state, but they are spending it exploring the darkness of outer space. They are at the University of Florida in Gainesville conducting astrophysical research with former Haverford Assistant Professor of Astronomy Desika Narayanan. Supported by the Koshland Integrated National Science Center (KINSC), the two are using the university’s HiPerGator 2.0 supercomputer, the third-fastest university supercomputer in the country, and galaxy simulation code to gain firsthand experience in computational astronomy research.
Milburn, an astrophysics major, and Otter, an astronomy and physics major and math minor, will try to simulate a galaxy that formed in the universe’s early stages that is emitting an anomalous amount of energy, and then compare it with existing hypotheses about why it has such unusual emissions.
“Learning about the formation and evolution of galaxies is quite fascinating,” said Milburn. “In studying such old galaxies, we are able to learn more about how our universe came to be the way it is today.” Otter agreed, adding, “For me the prospect of doing research has always been super cool as a way to make a contribution, however small, to a global effort in explaining things we observe in the universe.”
During their 10-week internship, the two Fords are sharing an apartment and collaborating with Narayanan, learning as they go in an exciting research opportunity. Most of the pair’s daily work involves learning the simulations’ coding language, reading up on relevant academic literature, and generating plots that provide information about the simulated galaxies’ compositions.
Outside of their work, Florida offers many opportunities for play. Milburn has been enjoying the university’s free bowling alley (“a total steal”), and they are both relishing Gainesville’s local haunts. Next up, they are looking forward to checking out the beaches.
In his Fall 2016 Haverford class “Introduction to Astrophysics I,” Narayanan, who now teaches at UF, offered his then-students an opportunity to join him down south for summer research. After Milburn and Otter secured funding from the KINSC scholars program, they were happy to come along.
“It’s been really cool to apply a lot of the things I've learned in class about stuff like star formation and galaxies in a research setting,” said Otter. “As this is my first research experience, it's also been good to work with both an adviser and peer who I already knew coming in, as I didn't really know what to expect.”
As Milburn considers pursuing graduate education in astrophysics, his work in Gainesville gives him “much needed experience with astrophysical computing.”
And this isn’t just any computing. Milburn noted:“It’s cool that the simulations we are carrying out use up enough computing power to warrant the use of a supercomputer.” More simply, said Otter: “We also get to work on a supercomputer, which is pretty rad.”
-Michael Weber '19
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.