Anderson University works on dream project

Mon, 2014-01-13 07:52 -- univcomm
January 13, 2014

Tyler Williamson dreamed of conducting research in gamma-ray observation. The VERITAS collaboration gave him an opportunity to do just that. VERITAS, the Very Energetic Radiation Telescope Array System, is a project located near Tucson, Ariz., that detects gamma-ray signatures in the atmosphere. Williamson, a junior majoring in physics and mathematics, was invited to work on VERITAS.

Williamson began working on VERITAS two years ago with Dr. John Millis, associate professor of physics and member of the VERITAS collaboration. He gathered data, got the new analysis system running, and completed complex data analysis on local computers. “While analyzing the data locally is a great experience in itself, it is even better to have to the opportunity to travel to Arizona and work on the actual instrument,” said Millis.

[Photo: Tyler Williamson is one of the few undergraduate students to have the opportunity to work on the VERITAS collaboration. VERITAS is a project to detect gamma-ray signatures in the universe, and Williamson spent 16 days working on it last summer in Arizona.]

The instruments used to detect the gamma-rays are four 40-foot Air Cherenkov detectors, and the hardware is worth more than $20 million. These instruments are operated by four astronomers. In most cases, the astronomers running the systems are professors, post-doctoral research scientists, and some graduate students. “Dr. Millis applied for a grant to take me with him for the two weeks he would be working on the project in Arizona last summer,” explained Williamson. “When he received the grant, he asked me if I wanted to go. I was really excited about the opportunity.”

Williamson’s experience was unique because not many undergraduate students are invited to work on VERITAS. “We are one of the few universities that takes undergraduate students to observe the system,” said Millis. “By the end of our trip, Tyler had been given the opportunity to run every aspect of the system and learn how everything really works—a real rarity for an undergraduate researcher.”

Williamson believes found it to be an invaluable opportunity. “If I end up pursuing this area of study, I will have great hands-on experience. The research came to life for me, and it broadened my understanding of what I was doing,” he said. The experience was also an unbelievable networking opportunity for him and will be a great résumé builder.

Dr. Chad Wallace, chair of the department of physical sciences and engineering, believes the department is an excellent but challenging place for Williamson to learn the skills needed to succeed in this line of study. “Our department tries to prepare our physics majors to understand their field well,” said Wallace. “However, with how quickly changes are occurring in areas like astrophysics, we do not simply teach our students a list of facts. We teach them how to think and how to learn. Tyler is one example of our many excellent students.”

Williamson is grateful for his time spent working on the VERITAS collaboration, and he thanks Millis for his success. “He took me under his wing, allowed me to do research with him, and applied for the grant so I could work with him,” said Williamson. “I could not thank him enough for everything he has done for me.”

— Allison Kohl is a senior from Springfield, Ohio, majoring in communication arts. Kohl is the administrative manager with Fifth Street Communications®, writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.

Anderson University is a private Christian university in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God (Anderson, Ind.), Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.