February 21, 2017

Caroline Leaman ’17 enrolled at Susquehanna as a music major, but as she says, “I added my astrophysics major on a whim and haven’t regretted it since.”

It was her astrophysics major that took her to Colorado in 2016 for a research internship at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). There helped with data analysis on the Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS), a small satellite designed and operated by students at the University of Colorado Boulder to study solar flares.

“The first half of my time there was spent studying active regions of the sun, producing images so that people can understand what they’re looking at,” Leaman said. “The second half was spent on solar flares. I would classify the flare, determine what the temperature of the flares were via isothermal modeling, and put them all on a graph. This kind of research has never been done before.”

Leaman said she learned how to navigate a work environment and acquired new computer programming and solar physics skills during her internship. She also had the opportunity to have her name engraved on a satellite, and then learned how to control it from the ground.

“My experience was limited to putting known functions into my calculator, and plotting graphs on Matlab,” Leaman explained. “But my first day on the job, I sat down at a desk and was told to do this analysis in IDL, which is the astrophysicists’ favorite programming language. I froze in fear and then spent two weeks figuring out how to work IDL. That was where I learned how and when to ask for help.”

In addition to the research experience, she learned how to live on her own and be independent.

Leaman said she enjoyed “every last second” of her research at LASP, and in December, she presented her findings at the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

She credits Susquehanna faculty with making her self-designed astrophysics major a success. “The faculty here worked, and continue to work, relentlessly with me to make this degree happen,” Leaman said.