Two BDNYC Alumni Awarded NSF GRFP Fellowships

The BDNYC group is excited to congratulate two alumni members on their National Science Fellowship (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) awards! Victoria DiTomasso and Allison (Allie) McCarthy have both won NSF GRFP fellowships for the 2021 award year.

The NSF GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported STEM disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited US institutions. The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support and a cost of education allowance to the institution.

Victoria DiTomasso did her undergraduate work at the City University of New York at Hunter College and joined the BDNYC research group as a sophomore as part of the Astrocom NYC project. She worked with BDNYC for three full years before accepting a US Fulbright scholarship to continue her low mass star research in Potsdam, Germany. She is now a second year graduate student at Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics, and will use her NSF GRFP to continue her Astronomy research. Victoria’s research focuses on exoplanets, planets that are outside of our solar system. In her current project, she is searching radial velocity data (how a star moves toward or away from us over time) for evidence of planets orbiting around them. In particular, she is looking at “twin” stars in a binary system; two stars orbiting around each other that are nearly identical in their characteristics. Victoria is most excited about the possibility of discovering a planet (or planets!) orbiting around one of the stars in the binary and not the other, as this would provide an interesting case study in planet formation. Such a discovery would raise compelling questions about how two stars that formed together and are otherwise nearly identical, might have different planetary systems.

Allie McCarthy did an NSF-funded Research Education for Undergraduates (REU) project with BDNYC during the summer of 2019 when she was a rising senior. Allie is now a first year graduate student studying Astronomy at Boston University, and will use her NSF GRFP to continue her research at Boston University. Allie’s research focuses on L and T type dwarfs—the most common classes for brown dwarfs. Allie, along with BDNYC members Jackie Faherty, Johanna Vos, and Daniella Bardalez Gagliuffi are members of the recently NASA funded project dubbed the Perkins INfrared Exosattelite Survey (PINES). This project is led by Allie’s thesis advisor and friend of BDNYC Phil Muirhead. As part of her NSF GRFP work, Allie will analyze L- and T-type dwarf variability to study the physical mechanisms driving the variability.

Victoria got the news about her fellowship on a day like any other, sitting around her dining room table with her roommates—one of which is another BDNYC alum, Munazza Alum—while they all worked. Victoria happened to see the email from NSF the moment it arrived, and immediately announced to her roommates that she won the GRFP. But then, unable to believe her eyes, she asked her roommates to reread the email several times, just to be sure!

Allie was out walking her dog when she saw the email from NSF arrive. Before she even had a chance to open the email and see if her hopes were confirmed, her phone was flooded with text messages of congratulations from friends who are current and past award winners. Although Allie’s dog perhaps didn’t appreciate the major interruption to their daily walk, Allie was delighted to have friends break the wonderful news to her instead of a standard email!

The entire BDNYC team gives their proud and heartfelt congratulations to both Allie and Victoria on this wonderful accomplishment, and wishes them the very best with all their future research!