Florida Tech Graduate Student Earns $72,000 Astronomy Grant

– To help find the answer to the question, “How old is our galaxy?” Merissa Rudkin, a Florida Tech doctoral student, has received a $72,000 NASA Graduate
Student Research Program (GSRP) grant. She will study the oldest, coolest, faintest white dwarf stars to determine an improved age estimate for the Milky
Way Galaxy and its dark matter content.

“White dwarfs are the final stage of a star’s life,” said Dr. Terry Oswalt, Florida Tech astronomy professor and Rudkin’s advisor. “Studying them is like
digging around in the stellar graveyard for the ‘bones’ of all the previous generations of stars out there. What we are trying to do is piece together the
history of the Milky Way galaxy using this fossil record of stars.”

Rudkin’s work will encompass a wider survey than previously done to study stellar remnants. She will seek to rigorously examine the dark matter — the
white dwarf link — and try to determine an accurate age for the disk of the galaxy to within +/-5 percent.

Rudkin is Oswalt’s fourth graduate student to win a prestigious NASA GSRP fellowship.

Florida Tech has one of the largest undergraduate astronomy programs in the country. The university offers a bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree in
space sciences and a bachelor’s degree in astronomy/astrophysics.

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