McKenzie Ferrari, a physics major at UMass Dartmouth’s College of Engineering and a 2022 Goldwater Scholar, is one of 60 students selected nationwide to participate in the Council on Undergraduate Research "Posters on the Hill" event. Mckenzie will have the opportunity to present her project titled “Synthetic Spectroscopy of Near-Chandrasekhar Mass Type Ia Supernovae from the Double-Degenerate Channel," which sheds light on the structure of the universe.
"Much of what we know about the structure of the universe, such as its rate of expansion after the Big Bang, relies on the existence of type Ia supernovae, which are large explosions resulting from the internal collapse of stars called white dwarfs,” Mckenzie says. She further explains that white dwarfs are stars at the end of their lifetime; they’ve exhausted all their internal fuel, gained lots of mass, and are only a fraction of their original size. Due to their nature, most—although not all—type Ia supernovae output the same amounts of energy and are therefore similar in brightness.
“Utilizing this unique characteristic, astronomers can measure distances throughout space. This technique is how astronomers discovered that the early and late universe were expanding at distinctly different speeds, hinting that a force called dark energy might exist, causing our universe to expand at an increasing rate,” she says. “Very little is known about the origin of these type Ia supernovae. Scientists have long believed that a supernova is the result of a white dwarf stealing material from an orbiting companion star—often a star like our Sun—until the white dwarf reaches a certain mass called the Chandrasekhar mass, becomes unstable, and explodes. This scenario has been named the ‘single-degenerate channel.’”
Robert Fisher, Professor of Physics at UMass Dartmouth who serves as McKenzie’s advisor, says, "Mckenzie has been doing research in my group since her first summer at UMass Dartmouth. She has consistently impressed me with her brilliance and her dedication to her research efforts. I anticipate that this richly-deserved recognition of Mckenzie's scholarship by the Council of Undergraduate Research will be only the first of many more in the years to come."
“Our work suggests that white dwarfs approaching this Chandrasekhar mass instead collect material from a companion that is another white dwarf of similar mass; this scenario is the “double-degenerate channel,” McKenzie says. In addition to the invitation to present her research as part of the "Posters on the Hill" event, Mckenzie was recently accepted to the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory REU, one of the most prestigious astrophysics REU in the nation. Learn more about her research and outcomes during the Posters on the Hill 2022, which will be hosted virtually on April 26 and 27, 2022.