A research article from Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University’s Department of Physics has recently been accepted by The Astrophysical Journal Letters, a leading London-based scientific journal of astrophysics and astronomy. The article, published by graduate student Yuqian Li, identified structures of the young star cluster NGC 2232 in the solar neighbourhood and a newly-discovered star cluster, LP 243. It also made predictions regarding the evolution of the two star clusters.

Li, a 2020 graduate from the Department of Applied Mathematics, is the second author of the research article alongside supervisor Dr Xiaoying Pang. Under the guidance of Dr Pang, a lecturer at the Department of Physics, Li further explored the capabilities of machine learning to study astronomical structures, building on her final year project focusing on 3D morphology of star clusters. Using the unsupervised machine-learning method ‘StarGO’ to select Gaia DR2 data, Li conducted an analysis of the nature and dynamical states of the clusters, as well as an investigation into the cluster members. Li’s research expands on existing studies in the field.

She explains: “The star clusters are undergoing dynamical evolution. By analysing the nature of the star clusters, it is predicted that while NGC 2232 is currently experiencing a process of revitalisation, LP 2439 may fully dissolve in the near future.”

Reach for the stars

Dr Mattheus Kouwenhoven, head of the Department of Physics, said it is a great achievement for an undergraduate to publish a research article in an international leading-edge journal such as The Astrophysical Journal Letters. “This is an outstanding milestone for a young researcher,” he says. “For Ms Li to have her work published in a notable journal this early in her career shows a lot of promise for her future.”

Despite this achievement, Li admits that she did not have much experience with undergraduate research before undertaking this project. "It was quite confusing and a slow process to begin with. Thanks to Dr Pang, I became fascinated with the academic field of astronomy." Li says she prepared for the project by reading as many physics and astronomy articles as she could. "We were meeting once a week with Dr Pang, and we shared what we had been reading. Dr Pang would give advice and encourage us to keep going, and that gave me a sense of achievement," Li explains.

According to Dr Pang, conducting research projects is long-term training, and can greatly improve undergraduates’ research skills, autonomous learning and logical thinking. "Some students aren’t sure whether they are suitable for research projects, but I believe they should try new things and cultivate varied interests."

Li says that undergraduate research taught her good study habits. "It helped me develop patience and stay calm in the face of difficulties, and has improved my learning,” she adds.

Li is now enrolled in the University of Edinburgh Operational Research with Data Science degree programme. She is currently conducting a research project while taking online courses at home. She continues to work on in-depth research with Dr Pang in the field of astronomy.

By Qiuchen Hu, translated by Ke Tang
Edited by Chloe Byrne

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