Going Above and Beyond

After a small unit about astrophysics in high school, rising senior Madyson Barber ’22 found herself fascinated with the subject and desired to learn more.

Looking for the answers to her questions led her to UNC-Chapel Hill to study astrophysics in the College of Arts & Sciences and then to assistant professor Andrew Mann’s lab to research exoplanets — planets outside of our solar system.

Barber’s research took another step forward when she was recently named one of the state’s 11 NC Space Grant Undergraduate Research Scholars. Also a Chancellor’s Science Scholar, Barber is one of two Carolina undergraduates to receive the distinction.

The grant will allow Barber to continue her research on exoplanets. More than 4,000 exoplanets have already been identified, but Barber wants to find and confirm more. Working alongside Mann, Barber is specifically working to identify young exoplanets — a group that currently makes up between 0.5% and 1% of known exoplanets.

“There’s so much we can learn about physics from other worlds,” said Barber. “Once we understand those, we’re able to understand better physics that we can apply to Earth. We can elevate everything we have here. Astrophysics is not just studying space. It’s studying things that we could bring home.”

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