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The study of a transient binary star system, which consists of two stars orbiting one another, is the focus of an intensive summer research project conducted by physics major Michael Kaczmarczik ’06 (Elkins Park, Pa.).

One of the stars produces X-rays observed using NASA’s X-Ray Timing Explorer satellite. The research indicates this system, KS1947+300, does indeed have two distinct states.

“Mike is trying to understand how the star produces the X-rays it emits and how this production changes as the star gets brighter and fainter,” says Michael Stark, assistant professor of physics.

The results of Kaczmarczik’s research will be published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. He will also present his results at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

He and Stark are working together through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students assist faculty members with research while earning a stipend. The program has helped make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

Stark believes that the research may lead to a trip to Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, where Kaczmarczik would meet and work with other astrophysicists. Eventually, related research could lead to an honors thesis.

“Mike is intelligent and self-motivated,” he says. “He is working with computer-based tools, which he encountered for the first time this summer. He has mastered them and now works very effectively manipulating the data. He understands how his work fits into the larger research project and is able to make a valuable contribution to the intellectual part of the research.”

“I like how you can work closely with the professors at Lafayette,” says Kaczmarczik, who is expanding upon an honors thesis project conducted by Malinda Saia ’04 in her senior year. “Going into this research, I knew nothing but the very basics of astronomy and how research is actually conducted. Professor Stark has shown me how such research is carried out, as well as given me a better understanding of astronomy in general.”

“Physics has always interested me. It seems to encourage a broader understanding of not only the world, but the universe, which is appealing,” continues Kaczmarczik. “This project has given me a basis of understanding about astronomy research. Not only will this help in gaining admittance to a graduate school, but it will also help me decide exactly what I want to study in the future.”

Stark credits the high quality of Lafayette students for making it possible to carry out his research objectives.

“My colleagues at universities and government research labs work with graduate and post-doctoral students. I am able to carry out the same kind of research at Lafayette because of the high quality of students and because I have the opportunity to work closely with them,” he says.

Kaczmarczik is a member of CHILL (Creating a Healthy, Interesting, Livable Lafayette) and the Chi Phi fraternity. He will be president of the Outdoors Club and a board member of Lafayette Environmental Awareness and Protection this fall.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News