Williams

Dr. Kurtis Williams

A professor at Texas A&M University-Commerce recently received a grant for almost $275,000 to fund his research into white dwarf stars and stellar evolution.

Dr. Kurtis Williams, associate professor of Physics and Astronomy at A&M-Commerce, was the recipient of a $273,424 grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant is for his study titled “Using a Large Sample of White Dwarf Stars to Study Stellar Evolution.”

Williams summed up his first reaction to getting the grant.

“The best way to describe it would be greatly relieved,” Williams said.

Williams says he has been attempting to secure funding for this study for about 10 years, but the study has its roots all they way back to 2000 when he was completing his graduate studies. He describes the study as a type of “stellar forensics.”

“Most stars die very quietly,” Williams said. “When they die, they leave behind a white dwarf.”

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, a star like the Sun becomes a white dwarf at the end of its life cycle after expelling most of its outer material and leaving behind the hot core, which is much smaller than the star but incredibly dense. Over time, this core cools as there is no more fusion reactions to create heat.

Williams says that white dwarf stars are useful in determining the time that has passed since they were created. Since the amount of heat they have lost through cooling can be measured, a timeline can be created that shows how long ago the star died.

“By looking at these white dwarf stars, we can better understand the complicated physics behind the death of stars,” Williams said.

The funds from the grant will be used to hire assistants and to accommodate travel to different telescopes and observatories around the world, including the McDonald Observatory in west Texas.

Williams said that he was grateful to the foundation for bestowing this grant for his research.

“The comments I’ve heard from the review panel were positive,” Williams said. “It’s nice to know that they have faith in my work.”