1870 Mag

Oxymajors: A Dancer Studying Astrophysics

Photos by Grant Jones.

Oxymajor (äksi•mel•dȷ r)
Someone whose hobby or skill is completely unrelated to their course of study, but they do it anyways.

Jackie Appel is a fourth year Astrophysics major from Slippery Rock, PA. She spends the majority of her time working through quantum mechanics questions, but when she (shockingly) has a few free hours open, she can be found showing off her dance skills.

Appel attended Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, PA. School was an hour away, but the trip was completely worth it. She took dance classes instead of gym classes, including ballet twice a week, jazz twice a week, and tap once every week. Occasionally, the school would host masterclasses for professionals to visit and teach. These visitors taught Appel things like modern dance, broadway dance tips, how to audition well, and hip hop!

In college, Appel has connected her passion for dancing with her general love of performing. She has sung, danced, and acted in multiple shows with Off the Lake Productions at OSU. Appel was also recently chosen to travel to Hawaii this January to present her research thesis at the American Astronomical Society Meeting. I sat down with her chat about her background as a dancer fitting in with her current major in astrophysics.

ARE PEOPLE SURPRISED WHEN YOU EXPLAIN ALL OF YOUR TALENTS AND PASSIONS?

I think that people are more surprised when I do them than when I talk about them. I have a tendency to just stretch my legs wherever and people are like, ‘What did you just do?!’ I’ll do something stupid, like stretching my hip out, and I have to go back and explain that I did gymnastics for 10 years straight and my body doesn’t want to just sit at a desk all day.

HOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN ASTROPHYSICS MAJOR?

I started in aerospace engineering. I did a year and a half in the engineering program before I realized that I didn’t enjoy the material. I briefly thought about becoming an English major. Eventually, I landed on astronomy. The reason I had gotten into aerospace engineering in the first place is that I’ve always really enjoyed space stuff. It’s so interesting and there is still so much to discover.

SO, WHAT IS YOUR RESEARCH THESIS ABOUT?

So I have been using data from the Hubble Space Telescope to look at the chemical abundances in certain regions of the Whirlpool Galaxy. This means I have been going through the visible light spectrum produced by the galaxy and measuring different spikes in order to see how much of various elements are in these regions. I’ve been using the results from my data, as well as results from another member of the research team I’m on, to calculate what’s called the Abundance Discrepancy Factor (ADF) for carbon. Basically, the ADF comes from the fact that there are two ways to measure chemical abundances in galaxies, and each way gives a slightly different result. We do not know exactly why, but that is the big question my research is trying to start to answer.

WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP FOR YOUR CAREER?

I’m currently writing grad school application essays and applications. I want to go into science journalism because I really like the broad spectrum of things. I’ve always liked explaining things to people. I think that it’s important to make people care about things. The only way we make any large- scale progress is if a lot of people care about it. I bring up the space race a lot since it’s the last time we had any hugely significant space progress. Everybody cared about it. •

Have a hobby or project that is completely unrelated to your field of study? Email editor@1870mag.com to be our next Oxymajors candidate.

Cam Deville

Cam Deville

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