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Student Story: Veronika Dornan

Mount Allison astronomy student Veronika Dornan isn’t just looking at stars, she’s making them. Simulations of them, to be exact.

An attendant of two Science Atlantic conferences, this year she was co-awarded the Tindall/Steintz Award in Research at the Atlantic Undergraduate Physics and Astronomy Conference.

“[My first conference] I didn’t have research to present. I went to understand how it works and to take it all in. I think it’s really good to have the ability to meet other students doing science in the Maritimes and to be able to collaborate and share and meet new people in that environment,” she said.

Veronika is currently conducting her honours thesis research which studies Delta Scuti variables: a particular type of star “that basically means their surface is getting bigger and smaller periodically and because of that, how bright they seem from Earth also varies periodically,” Veronika explained.

Using computer simulations and theoretical yet highly consistent equations, Veronika creates these stars with differing characteristics (their masses, metal compositions) to discover how interior structure affects pulsation.

“My research is important because we can learn a lot more about how stars work by how their interior structures affect everything about them. How they pulsate is information that can be transferred to how we understand other variable stars – including our sun, and we can use them to determine how big the universe is.”

While Veronika has been fascinated by space since elementary school, she wasn’t sure that physics was a possibility.

“When I young I was really into space, but as I started growing up I realized I wasn’t very good at math or physics. I went to Mount Allison thinking I would do some other kind of science but figured out I actually am sort of good at physics.”

She attributes much of what she’s now doing to her supervisor and astronomy professor, Dr. Catherine Lovekin.

“I get to work with someone that I can see myself in. There are not a lot of women in physics in general, so it’s really wonderful to have that role model. It was really exciting to see that I was able to pursue something that I didn’t think I’d be able to when I was younger,” Veronika said.

“It was really exciting to see that I was able to pursue something that I didn’t think I’d be able to when I was younger.”

Now, Veronika is busy finishing her honours thesis and applying to graduate schools across the country. “I just really want to continue in astronomy. That’s really exciting to me right now – just how open it can be.”

Whether from the Maritimes, the West Coast or somewhere in-between, Veronika plans to continue her study of the stars.