Recent PhD in radio instrumentation and pulsar astronomy
Laura Spitler was a graduate student working with Prof. Jim Cordes on a range of projects involving the time variability of radio sources, including pulsars, binary white dwarfs and ETI. In particular she is interested in building digital instruments and developing signal processing techniques that allow one to more easily identify and classify transient sources.
While at Cornell she built several digital spectrometers to conduct large-scale surveys. One of these instruments, SERENDIP V.v, is an ultra high-resolution spectrometer conducting a SETI survey at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. This survey has been operating for over three years in a "piggy-back" mode on ALFA, the seven-pixel feed array. So for no strong ETI signals have been found.
Pulsars, neutron stars with strong magnetic fields and high rotation rates, are perhaps the most famous of all variable radio sources. Radio emission is generated near their magnetic poles through a process that no one completely understands. If the beam of emission happens to cross our line of sight as the star rotates, we see a short radio pulse each rotation period. Most pulsars have been found through periodicity analyses whereby many pulses are averaged together. This only works well if the pulsar is a steady emitter. Recently a new type of pulsar has been found that only emits sporadically. These are best detected by searching for individual pulses. Laura has been working on new signal processing techniques to sift for the true, pulsar pulses among mountain of false alarms: an astrophysical needle in a haystack. But her work has paid off, because recently she discovered her first new pulsar!
While in grad school Laura was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to places she might never have otherwise visited. One highlight was a trip to a conference in Cape Town, South Africa during which she saw all sorts of cool flora and fauna (see photo).
Laura was also been involved in several outreach projects at Cornell. From 2010-2012 she was in charge of the Curious? Ask an Astronomer website and produced several podcasts for our new Curious? Podcast. Laura also played double bass in the Cornell Symphony Orchestra for seven semesters.
Laura received a NY Space Grant Graduate Fellowship to support her research in 2012. Laura graduated at the end of 2012 and is now a postdoc in the fundamental physics group at the Max - Planck - Institut für Radioastronomie in Bonn, Germany.