Advanced Math/Science Research Update

by Dr. April Burch, Director of the AMSR program

January 15, 2013

Since our last update, Berkshire School hosted student researchers from Belmont Hill, and all-boys prep school outside of Boston, for a 1-day mini-symposium on Student Biomedical Research. The goal was to foster collaboration, communication and community outreach with our students.  AMSR students Liza Bernstein '13, Sissi Wang '13, Lars Robinson '13, Elsie Guevara '13, Ernest Yue '13, and Nate MacKenzie '14, gave short talks about their work in the new Bellas/Dixon Math and Science lecture hall. The talks were followed up by break-out sessions where Belmont Hill students described their research projects and students discussed commonalities between the projects and future goals.

The second semester of AMSR started with some terrific news. The AMSR program was awarded a grant from The Chinchester Dupont Foundation for the purchase of an EVOS fluorescence microscope.  This piece of equipment will expand the types of experiments and analyses that can be done by AMSR students this and future years.  The microscope should arrive shortly, and Dr. Burch has invited everyone to stop in for a look next time they are on campus. 

One new, exciting project that is underway in the winter season of AMSR in the afternoons is being spearheaded by Elif Kesaf '14.  Elif is from Turkey and seeks to identify novel viruses of non-pathogenic strains of Legionella bacterium from travertines in Pamukkale. In collaboration with Dr. Sunny Shin at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, she will be working to isolate viruses of this bacterium with the hope of identifying new agents to combat Legionnaires' disease caused by a pathogenic form of Legionella.

Look for more news from Dr. Burch in the next issue!

Cabot '13: Lead Author in Prestigious Journal
Posted 02/25/2013 11:57AM

Cabot '13: Lead Author in Astrophysics Publication

Sam Cabot ’13 was notified this week by the London offices of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that a research paper he submitted earlier this year had been accepted for publication. Monthly Notices is one of the world’s leading primary research journals in astronomy and astrophysics, as well as one of the longest established. It publishes the results of original research in positional and dynamical astronomy, astrophysics, radio astronomy, cosmology, space research and the design of astronomical instruments.

Sam had been interested in astronomy since his grandfather gave him a small telescope when he was 10. In 2010 his interest started transforming into a passion when Berkshire School placed him in the Advanced Math Science Research (AMSR) program in his sophomore year.  A chance meeting with Professor Q. Daniel Wang after an Astronomy class at UMass Amherst that summer led to his return to the university in 2011 and 2012 to work under the supervision of Professor Q. Daniel Wang (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), and in cooperation with Dr. Yangsen Yao (University of Colorado, Boulder) to analyze archival data obtained by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) XMM-Newton space based telescope. He supplemented this research with his own learning, studying Linux, SAS (ESA’s processing software), Xspec (X-ray analysis software), IDL (data visualization software), plus some statistics and differential equations he needed to derive his calculations.

The research relates to understanding the physical processes of the hot interstellar medium (ISM). Very little is known about the hot ISM but it is believed to be an important part of the galactic ecosystem and consists of the physical materials needed for star formation, accretion disks, and other galactic functions. While the hot ISM is too diffuse to observe direct emission from, its properties can be determined through X-ray absorption line spectroscopy. This involves using a space-based X-ray telescope to detect light traveling through the hot ISM from a background source and isolating which colors of light are fainter (i.e. the hot ISM absorbed); the background light source is typically an Active Galactic Nucleus or a star’s accretion disk. The focus of Sam’s research is an anomaly that presents itself in some, but not all, X-ray data from both ESA’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s Chandra images of the neutron star binary system, Cyg X-2. The anomaly is a missing absorption line that is normally clearly present, and the research is important to support reliance upon data obtained from using Low Mass X-Ray Binaries (LMXBs) as sources for absorption spectroscopy.

A pre-publication version of the paper is available from the Cornell University Library at this link:

The abstract can also be found in the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS), operated by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics:

Students and faculty at Berkshire are proud of what Sam has done. “While Berkshire can't take too much credit for his accomplishment --- that credit obviously goes to Sam --- the entire Berkshire community can all be proud of him and hold his achievement up as an example of what can happen at Berkshire when you mix talent with passion and hard work,” said Dean of Academics Clay Splawn. “We expect that, for Sam, this is just the first of many great academic achievements yet to come.”

Sam will be graduating from Berkshire School in May and plans to continue his research at UMass Amherst again this summer.

Click here for more information about Berkshire School’s Advanced Math/Science Research program.


Berkshire School

245 North Undermountain Road
 |  Sheffield, MA 01257
 |  T: 413 229 8511

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