with James E. Neff

Participation in research is a critical part of undergraduate education. I greatly benefitted from my own involvement in several projects while an undergraduate, and I have supervised student researchers at Penn State University and at the College of Charleston. Undergraduate research has become a virtual requirement for acceptance into graduate school, and students embarking on other career paths also benefit from the practical experience.

I have provided scientific supervision and financial support for over 30 student researchers. My broad research interests and many funded programs (over $2 million has been awarded on programs for which I am the principal investigator) provide a wide selection of opportunities for undergraduate students. These include using modern data analysis tools for image processing and spectroscopic analysis as well as the planing and carrying out of multiwavelength, international, space-based and ground-based astronomical observations. I can also provide opportunities for students seeking to develop instrumentation, computational, and theoretical skills.


I am conducting observations that permit us to study magnetic activity in late-type stars by indirectly IMAGING their surfaces using high-resolution spectra. I am also probing the circumstellar environment in candidate PROTO-PLANETARY systems. These active and funded observing programs are conducted remotely using various spacecraft (e.g. the Hubble Space Telescope, the International Ultraviolet Explorer, the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer) and from various ground-based optical (e.g. Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, McDonald Observatory in Texas, Mt. Stromlo Observatory in Australia) and radio observatories (e.g. National Radio Astronomy Observatory/VLA in New Mexico).

Many of these programs involve coordinated multiwavelength observations using many facilities. Others involve establishing a network of similar instruments on telescopes scattered in longitude in order to secure continuous observations from the ground for several days. Students will have an opportunity to participate in these international, multiwavelength, and multifacility programs. Major international campaigns are arranged nearly every year, so students likely would gain first-hand knowledge of the complicated logistics involved, would be able to interact with scientists at foreign institutions, and would become familiar with a large number of observatory facilities.

Students learn modern data reduction and analysis techniques using available software. They gain a working knowledge of IRAF/SDAS or AIPS (depending on their interest) and perform more complex data analysis tasks using IDL-based software packages. The latter are structured so that students could feasibly develop useful, special purpose analysis software. Available data sets include satellite data, radio data, and ground-based spectroscopy (echelle spectra and high-resolution Ca II H+K spectra).


Opportunities for detailed theoretical investigations frequently arise through the analysis of the data sets mentioned above. The primary motivation for imaging stellar outer atmospheres, for example, is to isolate the emission from discreet, magnetically- active regions. The spectrum of the active region then serve as input to semi-emprical atmospheric modeling codes. These atmospheric models, in turn, permit us to evaluate various energy storage, transport, and release mechanisms. These sometimes take exotic forms, such as flares that are millions of times more energetic than solar flares. Many of these have been observed in the ultraviolet spectra obtained with various spacecraft, and present models based on solar flares and flares from dwarf stars simply do not fit the observed parameters.

The procedure for deriving surface images from a series of high- resolution spectra is based on the inverse imaging problem, frequently called Doppler imaging. While this problem has been studied in detail for stellar photospheres, many questions must be resolved before the photospheric Doppler imaging techniques can be applied to ultraviolet spectra to give high-quality images of stellar outer atmospheres. These can be addressed by constructing a numerical inversion code (using, for example, maximum entropy) and numerical model atmospheres and then evaluating a large number of simulations.


I am managing the local observatory, which houses a 16" DFM telescope. We have several CCD's, filter wheels, and spectrographs. There is abundant opportunity for students with instrumentation skills (or students who would like to develop them) and computer skills to help me interface instrumentation with this telescope and use develop scientific programs that can make use of a telescope this size inside of a city (there are some interesting programs.

We are also involved in a consortium that has installed a new telescope in St. Thomas, USVI. Several students have spent time down there working with the existing telescope. There is now a great opportunity for students to help us get it up and running.


We have completed an audit of the greenhouse gas emissions due to all activities at the College of Charleston. Four students have been employed full-time during the past few summers to complete this work. The final report is available on-line at CofC's GHG page.
last modified... 8 June 2005
by... James E. Neff, (neff@cofc.edu)