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Ex-Albion student studies stars from Andes perch

ALBION, Oct. 18, 2009 (AP): A 2009 Albion College physics graduate is hard at work crunching data from a summer spent studying the stars by telescope high in the Andes.

Lesley Simanton is in the first year of doctoral studies in astronomy and physics at the University of Toledo.

Well before the start of fall classes at the Ohio school, she was deeply involved in pursuing her interest in the origins of the stars.

With backing from Toledo professor Rupali Chandar, Simanton traveled to Cerro Pachon, Chile. The area hosts some of the world's best telescopes.

``At an altitude of more than 9,000 feet, celestial observers get a better view of distant galaxies by climbing above the clouds and getting away from city lights,'' Albion spokesman Bobby Lee wrote on the school's Web site.

Simanton said it was thrilling to see the huge telescopes up close.

``I can remember being at Niles High School and learning that the best telescopes in the world have mirrors eight and 10 meters across,'' Simanton said. ``The Gemini South (in Chile) has an eight meter-diameter mirror. You get close to it and it is enormous.''

Chandar said she first worked with Simanton the summer before her senior year at Albion through the National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates program and found her to be ``bright, motivated and articulate.''

``I have some complicated spectroscopic data of ancient clusters of stars in the nearby galaxy M101,'' Chandar said. She said a colleague in Chile ``was willing to train a student in the art of reducing this data.''

``Lesley jumped at the chance,'' Chandar said. She said the summer experience ``gave Lesley the opportunity to jump right into a research project that could easily become part of a Ph.D. dissertation.''

On the Net: Gemini Observatory: http://www.gemini.edu







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