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Spotlight on Authoreans: Stella Offner

Stella Offner
Assistant Professor, Astronomy
UMass Amherst

What does being a scientist mean to you?

To me, science is about thinking rationally, solving problems and enjoying learning new things about the universe.

People who are not professional scientists can also be scientists. This is the idea behind "citizen science" projects: You, too, can be a scientist, even if it’s only for an hour at a time!


Can you summarize the main focus of your research and what drew you to that field of study/work?

I use numerical simulations to model how stars like our sun formed. When I was a physics graduate student I was interested in working on some kind of computational modeling. It turns out there are a lot of really interesting complex problems in astrophysics that you can only study with large computers. The study of star formation has a lot of different physics in it: gravity, magnetic fields, turbulence, and radiation. These interact in nonlinear and sometimes unexpected ways, which make star formation a fun thing to model. I also use the simulations to make cool movie

Still from a simulation on star formation.

What was your first time getting published? What was that experience like? 

My undergraduate senior thesis at Wellesley College resulted in a publication in a physics journal. It was exciting that I could make a tangible scientific contribution as an undergraduate. The paper involved modeling electrorheological fluids in a shear flow. An electrorheological fluid contains particles which respond to an applied electric field, for example, by lining up along the field lines to form particle sheets The fluid properties change as the field is turned on and off. These types of fluids have applications for breaks and shock absorbers.