Butler University hosts the Undergraduate Research Conference (URC), an event where undergraduate students can showcase their exceptional research to the community. About 300 undergraduate students from 13 institutions come to Butler’s campus to showcase their work, and our students share their research efforts with others in their industries. Junior College of Liberal Arts and Sciences student Josh Wanninger shares how participating in the URC allows him to improve his communication skills when discussing his research.

Josh Wanninger
Double Major: Astronomy and Astrophysics, Physics 

What is your research about?
I looked at the period changes of RR Lyraes stars in the globular cluster M14. RR Lyrae stars have their brightness increase by about 300 percent under half an hour and decrease by the same amount over the course of half a day by physically expanding and contracting. Normally these periods are extremely consistent over time; however, I found 31 RR Lyrae stars with changing periods and attempted to explain these periods. The research phase I will be presenting concluded with five of the 31 stars belonging to a recently discovered category of unexplained rapid period changes. Only three of this type of RR Lyrae have been found outside of my research in the past two decades.

Why did you want to participate in the Undergraduate Research Conference (URC)?
The URC is an opportunity for me to discuss my research with experts of different fields. It allows me to improve my communications skills when talking about my research. It also helps more individuals understand the field of astrophysics rather than assume it is too difficult for them to ever understand.

How are Butler faculty involved in your research project?
Dr. Murphy advises me on the little details I may miss. He also provides a lot of the astronomical data since it has been collected by current and former students he has worked with. Without the help of my faculty advisor, I would have no results since the little details that can be easily missed in this type of research make the tiny measurements disappear into noise.

How is participation in undergraduate research preparing you for your future career? 
Undergraduate research has recently become a necessity for entering graduate studies in astrophysics. Many graduate programs only admit students with undergraduate research experience. Graduate students also tend to perform poorly in their research topics when they don’t have the skills that can only be gained through research.

Why should Butler students get involved in undergraduate research?
Lectures can never teach the exact process of solving a problem that appears in research since many problems in research are completely novel. The main benefit of undergraduate research is learning what parts of the field of study are enjoyable to the research; what topics, process, task the individual researcher performs and enjoys the most.