Research

My thesis investigates the connections between star formation feedback and gas kinematics over a range of physical and star formation rate scales. My thesis advisor is Prof. Alberto Bolatto.

The first chapter of my thesis is related to the kinematics of extraplanar diffuse ionized gas (eDIG) in nearby, normally star-forming galaxies from the EDGE and CALIFA surveys. In my first paper, I derive molecular and ionized gas rotation curves for a sample of intermediate inclination galaxies. I find that the ionized gas rotates systematically slower than the molecular gas in the majority of these systems. We attribute this difference in rotation velocity to the presence of eDIG, which rotates more slowly with increasing height above the galaxy midplane. Viewed at an intermediate inclination, this effect leads to the systematically lower ionzied gas rotation velocities.

In order to measure eDIG properties directly, my second paper analyzes the ionized gas scale height, vertical gradient in the rotation velocity, and ionization properties of eDIG in a sample of edge-on CALIFA galaxies. We again find evidence for eDIG in the majority of galaxies studied, indicating the pervasive nature of this phase in nearby star-forming galaxies. This WIM-like phase is an important component to these galaxies, and the ionization of the eDIG is consistent with ionization from star formation activity in the midplane. Therefore, star formation feedback plays a role even in normally star-forming galaxies.

The second chapter of my thesis focuses on super star clusters (SSCs) in the central starburst of NGC253. High resolution ALMA data reveal dusty, compact, massive stellar clusters potentially powering the starburst-driven outflow (Leroy et al. 2018). Using even higher resolution ALMA data (30 mas = 0.5 pc), we find evidence for outflows from some of these SSCs. My third paper will focus on the properties of these outflows (such as the outflow velocity, mass, and energy injection) as well as modeling to constrain the outflow opening angles and inclinations. My fourth paper will study the continuum properties of these SSCs to constrain the cluster mass function.

In the final chapter of my thesis, I will study the kinematics of the galaxy-scale outflow in the prototypical starbust galaxy M82. I am the PI of cycle 7 SOFIA observations of the [CII]158μm line in the disk and outflow of M82. These spatially- and velocity-resolved measurements will allow for [CII] to be measured in the outflow of M82 for the first time. It is expected that the outflow should transition from molecular to atomic gas, and these data will probe this transition region. Moreover, the atomic gas in the outflow decelerates (Martini et al. 2018) whereas there is no such deceleration seen in the molecular gas (Leroy et al. 2015). These velocity resolved [CII] measurements (which are only possible with upGREAT on SOFIA) will determine whether the [CII] decelerates or not.

Star Formation Feedback Processes

A schematic of various star formation feedback processes as a function of physical scale and star formation rate. My thesis focuses on the feedback mechanisms highlighted in green.

Molecular and Ionized Gas Kinematics in Nearby Galaxies

Left: Molecular gas (blue) rotates systematically faster than the ionized gas (red) in the majority of intermediate inclination galaxies from the EDGE-CALIFA Survey (Levy et al. 2018). Right: The ionized gas rotation velocity decreases with distance from the galaxy midplane in a majority of the edge-on galaxies studied (Levy et al. 2019).

The Nearby Starburst Galaxy NGC 253

Left: The detection of a molecular gas outflow from the center of NGC253 (white contours) over the ionized gas (yellow) and soft x-ray (blue) emission. The background image is a composire 2MASS JHK image of NGC 253 (Bolatto et al. 2013, Nature). Right: High resolution ALMA data reveals 14 dusty, compact super star clusters in the central starburst region (Leroy et al. 2018).

Publications

Teaching, Outreach, and Mentoring

    Teaching:
  • ASTR 120: Introductory Astrophysics - Solar System
    Fall 2019
    Teaching Assistant
    Instructor: Prof. Stuart Vogel
  • PHYS 141: Introductory Mechanics
    Spring 2014
    Undergraduate Teaching Assistant
    Instructor: Dr. Colin Wallace
  • MATH 100, 100AX: Pre-College Algebra
    Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013
    Undergraduate Teaching Assistant, Lead, & Coordinator
    Instructor: Michelle Woodward

    Outreach:

    I am involved with GRAD-MAP (Graduate Resources Advancing Diversity with Maryland Astronomy and Physics), which pairs undergraduates from historically black colleges and universities, minority serving institutions, and community colleges primarily from the mid-Atlantic region with a mentor in either the UMD astronomy or physics departments. During the winter break, these students attend a ten-day Winter Workshop, where they learn Python, work on a research project with their mentor(s), and learn information and resources to help them apply for graduate school. For the past three years, I have served as a research mentor for a student. For the past two years, I developed the student's project independently and also assisted with some of the professional development during the Winter Workshop. This summer, I was a co-mentor for a student in GRAD-MAP's ten-week Summer Scholars program.

    Prior to coming the the University of Maryland, I worked in education and public outreach at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, AZ as the lead student for two years. I ran programs for schools and classrooms, developed activities and materials, organized teacher workshops, published a monthly newsletter and bi-monthly podcast, coordinated the translation of materials, and ran a social media site. I was also one of the key developers for the International Year of Light 2015 Quality Lighting Teaching Kit, which has been distributed to partner organizations worldwide. I was also a character in two installments of NOAO's comic strip Tales of the Modern Astronomer, which you can find here and here!

    Mentoring:
  • High School Student
    Summer 2019
    Rising senior at Washington, DC area high school
  • Nathnael Feleke
    Summer 2019 (GRAD-MAP Summer Scholars co-mentor)
    January 2019 (GRAD-MAP Winter Workshop)
    Undergraduate at Montgomery College - Takoma Park
    Now: undergraduate at Florida Institute of Technology
  • Aurora Cid
    January 2018 (GRAD-MAP Winter Workshop)
    Undergraduate at CUNY College of Staten Island
  • Natalia Ramírez Vega
    January 2017 (GRAD-MAP Winter Workshop)
    Undergraduate at University of Costa Rica & Fidélitas University

Nathnael Feleke—our 2019 GRAD-MAP Summer Scholar—posing in front of this poster with two of his project mentors (Stuart Vogel and R.C.L.).

The 2019 GRAD-MAP Winter Workshop cohort and volunteers in front of the Green Bank Telescope. (Photo by Peter Teuben)

Posing in front of my comic book character at the NOAO booth at the 2015 winter AAS meeting.

Contact

Department of Astronomy
University of Maryland
1113 PSC Bldg. 415
College Park, MD 20742

Office: ATL 1227

rlevy(at)astro(dot)umd(dot)edu