Graduate Student Highlight: Julie Skinner

On April 17, 2013 by Grad Forum
Skinner at the MDM Observatory

Skinner at the MDM Observatory

Graduate Studies is proud to highlight Julie Skinner of the Department of Physics and Astronomy for her many contributions to the field of astronomy and the Dartmouth community at large as she prepares to defend her thesis.

Skinner went to the University of Oklahoma where she received a BS in astrophysics. While at OU, she was involved in astronomy research with Dr. Dick Henry, studying the chemical abundances of planetary nebulae. In addition to her research and classes, she remained active as a musician and university ambassador.

Skinner’s inclination towards observational astronomy was a major factor in choosing where she would pursue her PhD. Dartmouth owns a 25% share of time at the MDM Observatory in Arizona. Telescope time, as well as a wonderful prospective student visit where she was charmed by the Upper Valley region and cheerful graduate students, made Dartmouth the obvious choice.

While at Dartmouth, Skinner has continued to execute exemplary research while remaining involved in activities outside of her chosen field. With advisor Dr. John Thorstensen, she investigates cataclysmic variable stars, a type of binary star system where two stars orbit each other so closely that matter from one falls onto the other. These systems have very fast orbits that may be less than two hours in some cases. The core of Skinner’s thesis revolves around a systematic search for these pairs and their progenitors in a nearby region of our galaxy. Her aim is to confirm that the astronomy community has identified all of the cataclysmic variables closest to us. The best part, according to Skinner, is that she has been involved in every point in the pipeline of data processing—from the telescope to the paper—and notes that there is no better feeling than discovering something brand new.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) outreach has been a significant aspect of Skinner’s time here at Dartmouth. Her favorite experiences have been the NSF GK-12 program and the National Science and Engineering Festival in Washington D.C. The NSF GK-12 program is coordinated by Dartmouth and pairs a STEM graduate student with a middle school teacher for an entire year. Skinner was placed in an 8th grade Earth Sciences classroom where she developed and improved curriculum while building communication skills and becoming comfortable in front of a class. At the D.C. festival, Scifest, Skinner participated as part of the “Stellar Forensics” team, developing activities to share with the public about how astronomers use light to get information about the universe. In addition to these experiences, Skinner is a member of the future faculty advisory board for the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL), and volunteers weekly at the Young Explorers preschool program at the Montshire Museum of Science.

Skinner is currently wrapping up her thesis and plans on defending in the near future. To celebrate, she and her husband have discussed the possibility of taking a big trip. One thing is for certain, Skinner deserves to be recognized for her academic achievements and contributions to the surrounding community while at Dartmouth, and we wish her the best of luck in her future.

by Mackenzie Jones

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