This summer I travelled to Boston to present my research at the “Cool Stars” Conference. During the conference, astronomers travel from all over the world to meet and present their work on stars that range in size from the Sun, to very cold stars that are approximately the size of Jupiter. I am particularly interested in the smallest, coldest objects known, the so-called brown dwarfs. These objects form like the Sun – via the collapse of a large cloud of gas and dust – however they do not gain enough mass to burn nuclear energy like the Sun. Instead, they are born hot and spend their lives cooling and dimming. The reason that I am so interested in these objects is that they have very similar properties to directly-imaged exoplanets. They have similar masses, radii, and temperatures and can be much more easily observed in the absence of a bright host star. For this reason, we often refer to these objects as “exoplanet analogues”
During my PhD I spent 4 years studying the atmospheres of these objects, looking for evidence of weather phenomena. I conducted the first large survey for weather patterns on exoplanet analogues using telescopes in Chile and Hawaii. This survey led to the first discovery of clouds in a planetary-mass object, as well as several subsequent detections. I was chosen to present this work during a plenary session at the Cool Stars conference, which would be the biggest talk of my academic career to date! While this was a daunting task, the chance to travel and stay in Boston for a week certainly eased my concerns.
The conference was held at Boston University. The week got off to a great start with a lot of topical talks and workshops on Monday. There were plenty of breaks throughout the day which gave us a chance to discuss the science results presented at the conference as well as ideas for future collaborations. The conference ended at around 6pm each day, giving us a chance to explore Boston each evening. The conference dinner was held on Thursday night, at the Top of the Hub, a restaurant located on the 52nd floor of the Prudential Center, overlooking the whole of Boston. Unfortunately, my talk was on Friday morning, so I could not avail of the abundant free wine and karaoke that was on offer.
On Friday morning I went over presentation a couple of times before heading the conference venue. Since I had spent the week talking with the other conference attendees, I was feeling a lot more confident about my presentation. The talk went well, and I had a lot of questions afterwards. Since it was the end of the conference I could not spend too long discussing my results with people, but I have been in email contact with several people since. All in all, this week was very beneficial and productive for me. My talk garnered a lot of interest from my fellow astronomers and I discussed many potential research projects with people that I met at the conference. I am very grateful to the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund for allowing me this opportunity!
Boston Harbor at sunset