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Juniata Physics Professor Gives Lecture on Binary Stars

(Posted January 20, 2014)

Matt Beaky, assistant professor of physics

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Starlight has been used as a medium for astrological readings, astrophysical research and even to set a romantic mood, but a Juniata College physics professor will explain how the dimming of starlight from solar systems can hold clues to the structure of the universe and evolution in a lecture at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 22, in Neff Lecture Hall in the von Liebig Center for Science on the Juniata campus.

Matt Beaky, assistant professor of physics will give a talk on "Eclipsing Binary Stars as Astrophysical Laboratories as part of the college's Bookend Seminar series featuring monthly afternoon lectures by Juniata faculty. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Beaky's talk will focus on explaining that binary stars, which are two stars that orbit each other, comprise more than half the stars in our galaxy. From Earth, observers can see the dimming of light in a binary system as one star passes in front of the other if the star orbit has just the right tilt to align with the line of sight from observation areas on Earth.

The observation of binary star systems has allowed scientists to better understand stellar structure and evolution. Beaky, who sponsors the college's "Observatory Nights" and teaches Juniata's astronomy courses, also will detail some of the research Juniata students have completed on eclipsing binary stars.

Beaky joined the Juniata faculty in 2011 as an assistant professor of physics from his previous job as an associate professor of physics at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo.

Beaky worked at Truman State since 2000 and was director of the university's Office of Student Research from 2009 to 2011. In addition to teaching physics classes, Beaky also managed the Truman Observatory and taught courses on Observational Astronomy and Astrophysics. As manager of the observatory, he hosted observatory nights for the local community and started an astronomy research program.

He earned a bachelor's degree in physics in 1989 from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass. He went on to earn a master's degree in 1992 and a doctorate in 1996, both from Ohio State University.

After earning his doctorate, Beaky traveled to Germany to work as an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Fellow at the University of Cologne. From 1998 to 2000 he worked as a National Research Council Research Fellow at Duke University and the Army Research Office in Durham, N.C. he also earned a research fellowship at Ohio State.

He has published his research in a variety of professional journals, including the "Information Bulletin on Variable Stars," "Minor Planet Bulletin," "Journal of the American Association of Variable Star Observers" and the "Journal of Molecular Spectroscopy."

He has received numerous awards during his career, including Sigma Xi (Kirksville Chapter) Researcher of the Year in 2008, induction into Sigma Xi in 2005 and the Robert H. Goddard Award for Outstanding Senior Physics Major from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1989.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.