UT astronomer is researching mysteries of universe, and you can help

A University of Tampa astronomer is researching powerful gamma-ray bursts that may unravel mysteries of the universe, and you can help. 

Amy Lien, an assistant professor of physics, is recruiting citizen scientists to volunteer for “Burst Chaser,” a research project that dives into data the space telescope Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory has collected on these massive explosions in the distant universe. The research aims to determine the cause of the bursts. The main candidates are awe-inspiring cosmic events like the collapse of massive stars, or supernovas, or the merging of objects like neutron stars and black holes. The answer will help explain the history of the universe and how it has evolved since these gamma-ray bursts occurred billions of years ago.

Lien started researching gamma-ray bursts as a post-doctoral fellow at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, where she was part of the mission operation support team for the Swift observatory. She brought her gamma-ray burst research project with her to UT in 2020. Lien says in a university setting, the research gets a boost from students who put in time to work on the project. For Burst Chaser, three UT seniors - Katherine Kurilov, Carter Murawski and Sebastian Reisch - are assisting with the research.

The current call for astronomy buffs and other curious minds to join the research is part of NASA's Citizen Science Seed Funding Program. The citizen scientists - Lien says some prefer the term NASA volunteers- will use the research platform Zooniverse to review the data collected by the Swift observatory and look for commonalities in the light curves, or pulse structures, of gamma-ray bursts to build a classification system. Lien says Zooniverse is a valuable tool for connecting with volunteer citizen scientists who can help review and research the massive amount of data modern technology can collect and compile.

The Burst Chaser team project officially launched with a presentation at the American Astronomical Society’s meeting in New Orleans in January. Lien says after the research project, she plans to work with a theorist to write a paper for a scientific journal.

Lien grew up in Taiwan and came to America to study astronomy. She was fascinated by the stars and the night sky as a child. But what truly piqued her interest was when scientists concluded that 80 percent of the universe is made up of dark matter they cannot even see. Her research on gamma-ray bursts reaches back to the early universe, in some cases only 550 million years after the Big Bang, and deals with some of the phenomena- bursting supernovas, collapsing neutron stars, black holes, massive cosmic explosions- that fascinate the public. 

For information on how to join the research project, go to Burst Chaser.
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Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.