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NMSU student lands fellowship to study quasars

New Mexico State University graduate student Bryson Stemock is joining approximately 2,000 young scholars across the nation to be offered a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the country’s oldest fellowship that directly supports graduate students in various STEM fields.

The five-year fellowship will fund Stemock’s research as he pursues his Ph.D. in astronomy for three years with an annual stipend of $34,000 per year and an additional $12,000 per year for university tuition and fees, with two reserve years.

Bryson Stemock stands in front of the Apache Point Observatory 3.5mm telescope, which he uses frequently for his research. Stemock received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which will provide three years of funding to help him pursue his Ph.D. (Source: NMSU)

“Knowing my funding is taken care of now will let me focus on what I’m actually here to do, which is to perform exciting research and begin my career as an astronomer.”

Stemock’s research focuses on combining innovative technology to learn more about the evolution of the universe using distant galaxies with very active central black holes, called quasars.

“By studying the light from a quasar, we can learn about gas clouds in between us and the quasar that we normally can’t see because they’re too dim,” Stemock said. The problem he faces is that analyzing the temperature or elements in just one or two gas clouds, or systems, can take up to a week for a trained professional.

bright spotThere are currently about 3,500 systems to study, which could take nearly 70 years to analyze completely and, as newer, larger telescopes are built, keeping up with the data is nearly impossible.

“With these issues in mind, I’m using machine learning, which is a branch of artificial intelligence, to design neural networks that can analyze tens of thousands of systems in under an hour.” Stemock said.

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