Marialis Rosario-Franco, a doctoral student in physics at The University of Texas at Arlington, has been awarded a prestigious fellowship to continue her doctoral studies in exomoons - moons which orbit planets located in other stellar systems.
Rosario-Franco received the Gröte Reber Doctoral Fellowship from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a facility of the National Science Foundation. Radio astronomy - the study of celestial objects that give off radio waves - allows scientists to study astronomical phenomena that are often invisible or hidden in other portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.
"This is a great opportunity and I'm very happy and grateful to receive this fellowship," Rosario-Franco said. "I was really surprised and humbled to hear back from the admissions committee so soon, two weeks after applying."
Rosario-Franco's fellowship will begin Sept. 1 and continue through spring 2020 at the NRAO's Very Large Array or VRA radiotelescope in Socorro, N.M., regarded as one of the premier radio observatories in the world. The VLA consists of 27 large radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration.
The site also contains the Long Wavelength Array or LWA, which are four-sided dipole antennas. Like the VLA, the LWA combines the views of its individual antennas to provide impressive radio images of the sky. Unlike the VLA antennas, the LWA antennas cannot dip or turn.
Rosario-Franco's doctoral research of exomoons is both theoretical and observational in nature, she said.
"My proposed research details studying the orbital stability of exomoons in four-body systems and examining their potential to be directly detected by modern radio telescopes," she explained.
She plans to conduct the observational aspect of her doctoral research at the VLA. During her time in Socorro, she plans to perform radio searches of exomoons, conduct observations with the VLA and LWA, using data analysis.
Rosario-Franco, a native of Puerto Rico, received a bachelor's degree in Applied Physics - Electronics from the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao in June 2014. She enrolled in UTA's physics graduate program in August 2014 and in summer 2015 she joined the department's Exoplanet Group. She then began to conduct research under Zdzislaw Musielak, professor of physics, who became her faculty mentor.
"I'm very proud of Marialis' many scientific achievements and I do strongly believe that this award she has received at NRAO will greatly help in establishing her career in exoplanet research, which is the fastest-growing field of astronomy," Musielak said. "This is truly a wonderful development that gives UTA opportunities to be associated with the most prominent radio astronomy institution in the world."
Rosario-Franco said she decided to pursue physics in high school, when she realized there were no astronomy or astrophysics programs in Puerto Rico.
"Physics brought me closer to my field of interest and unified all the astrophysics topics that sparked my curiosity from an early age," she said.
After completing her doctorate, she intends to pursue a postdoctoral position, followed by an academic position.
"My end goal is to return to my native Puerto Rico, where I intend to establish and maintain the first ever astronomy program available to undergraduates at the University of Puerto Rico," she said.