By Ximena Levander
Published: March 15, 2006
When Matthew Richardson was a young boy growing up in the south side of Chicago, he could watch drug dealers at work on the street corner from the windo,w and his mother was so concerned about his safety that she wouldn't let him play outside. "I had a bike, but I could never ride it,” he recalls.
"But, when I was in seventh grade, we moved to a much better area,” he continues. There he was able to pursue his interest in science, encouraged by one of his chemistry professors and the science portions of Academic Decathlon competitions.
In his senior year of high school, he had applied to several top Illinois universities, but a number of friends and teachers encouraged him to consider going out of state. So, when representatives of Fisk University visited his school on a recruiting trip, he was receptive to their message. "What sold Fisk to me was the dual science degree with Vanderbilt. That was a real attraction,” he says.
Richardson hadn't thought much about astronomy until he joined the Stassun team during the summer of 2005 as part of the Fisk Astronomy and Space Science Training Program (FASST) at the encouragement of Arnold Burger, professor of physics at Fisk University.
The sophomore has been touched by the excitement of the group's brown dwarf discovery. He says that he enjoyed his part of the project, which involved "making the graphs, called light curves, of the brown dwarf binary system.” While it often took a long time to make them, he considers "it well worth the wait because the light curves made it easier to understand the results obtained from the photometric data on the system.”
"Stassun is the superman of astronomy,” declares Richardson. "For how busy he is, he always manages to find time to meet the needs of his students.”
Richardson's curiosity in the universe and his desire for answers has been sparked by his experience in Stassun's lab. An avid chess player, Richardson enjoys challenging puzzles. "I've learned there is a lot more to find in the universe. It's like a teaser. I look at these images and realize you can find out so much information from just light and I find it really interesting.”
At the 2005 Fall Student Research Symposium conducted by the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium and hosted at Middlebury College in Vermont, Richardson was one of a handful of sophomores in attendance who presented research results.
Richardson's current plans are to complete his bachelor of science degree in physics with a concentration in astronomy at Fisk and then pursue a master's degree at Vanderbilt in civil engineering. "Astronomy is a lot of fun, but I think engineering will make me more marketable,” he says.
His participation in the binary brown dwarf project was made possible by a grant to Stassun from The New York Community Trust - The Kenilworth Fund.