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Students Return from Summer Research in Italy

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Posted on Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Westminster students Tyler Heintz ’18 and Ava Hoag '18 recently returned from a summer research program in Italy. For 10 weeks, they studied and researched gravitational microlensing at the University of Salerno, near Italy’s famed Amalfi coast. Microlensing, a prediction of Einstein’s theory of relativity, is the deflection of light by the gravity of a star or planet, and is currently being used to discover small Earth-like exoplanets.

In Salerno, Heintz and Hoag worked under the world-renowned microlensing expert Dr. Valerio Bozza to improve the main computer code used to fit observational data, and thus to discover and characterize new planets. They sped up the code by 10 percent and made it more stable for certain cases. They will present their results at the upcoming meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

Heintz and Hoag used their downtime to travel and explore, visiting Rome, Florence, Venice, and beyond – including Luxembourg and England.

Their research was funded by a $250,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant co-awarded to Dr. Thomas Oberst, Associate Professor of Physics at Westminster College, which aims to keep the US competitive in international research by training students with scientific experts abroad. Oberst is currently seeking students for research at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, in summer 2018.

Photo caption: Dr. Thomas Oberst, Tyler Heintz '18, and Ava Hoag '18 at an overlook in Ravello, Italy, in July 2017.

For more information, contact Oberst at or 724-946-7204.