Monday, January 28, 2013

Katelyn Allers on exoplanets and contributing to the encyclopedia of the universe

Katelyn Allers
Assistant Professor of Physics & Astronomy

What writing project(s) are you working on right now?
Right now I have two manuscripts in the works.  The first is the write-up of the design analysis and first results for a custom filter (similar to a camera filter) that I designed a few years ago.  The filter is designed to easily identify very low-mass stars and planets outside of our solar system (exoplanets).  The second manuscript is based largely on the work of Joe Lyons, a UMass-Amherst student who participated in Bucknell's NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in the Physics and Astronomy Department.  This paper is about determining if a planet or very low-mass star is young.  And by "young" we mean about 10 million years old!

What do you love about it?
Both of these papers are exploring directly-imaged exoplanets, which make up a new and exciting field in astronomy.  The first directly imaged exoplanets were discovered in 2008, and it seems like every new study reveals something unexpected about their nature.

What about it (if anything) is driving you nuts?
As is common in the field of astronomy, our work builds on previous studies. This can be somewhat aggravating, if the previous studies have been presented at a conference, but not published in a refereed journal.  Even worse is when the refereed journal article comes out and has very different results than the conference paper we were working from.

How would you describe your writing process?
I try to write a paper in plots.  I come up with the scientific plots that will best tell the story I'm going for and then craft the written manuscript around those plots.

What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?
Feedback from people in my field who are likely to use my results is the most useful (i.e. from my audience).  For example, I will try to solicit feedback on my filter design paper from scientists who might use my analysis to design their own filters. 

What would you like students to know about you as a writer?
One thing I think students should understand about scientific writing is how an individual's work is a piece of a much bigger puzzle.  My work builds on the work of other scientists and will, in turn, be built upon by future scientists.  I like to think that I'm helping write the encyclopedia of the universe!

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