After receiving his bachelor’s degree in astrophysics from Baylor University, Jeremy Smallwood came to UNLV because of the outstanding professors and researchers in the department of physics and astronomy. He said he wanted to be a part of the fantastic and exciting research being done at UNLV.
“There have been numerous people who have impacted my work throughout my Ph.D.,” he said. “The one person I want to acknowledge further is my advisor, Dr. Rebecca Martin. From day one, she has been an inspiration to me, and she has been instrumental in getting me to where I am today.”
Smallwood has made the most of his time at UNLV. He has already received his master’s degree in astronomy from UNLV and is now becoming a spring 2021 Ph.D. graduate. He has been published 11 times, believed to be the most of any graduate student in the department, and is the first author on eight of those publications.
This isn’t how you imagined finishing your degree; how has the pandemic affected your final year?
Considering I completed all my coursework by the time the pandemic occurred, I was not affected all that much. However, not being able to deliberate amongst fellow graduate students and faculty in person about research topics has had a negative impact.
My research deals with highly topical areas in astrophysics, such as planet formation and habitability, stellar evolution, white dwarf pollution, origin of fast radio bursts, and dynamics of accretion discs in binary star systems. The majority of my research is dedicated to the latter — the dynamics of accretion discs in binary star systems. Planets are thought to form embedded within the gaseous and dusty discs surrounding stars during their early formation stages. Indeed, such discs in and around binary systems are observed. Contrary to the naive expectation that discs in the binary star systems are too disturbed to form planets, discoveries from both ground-based and space telescopes such as Kepler have revealed an abundance of planets around binary star systems.
Understanding how protoplanetary discs evolve in and around binaries is fundamental in explaining the formation of planetary systems since the planet’s orbital identity is dependent on the disc structure. I use analytic and numerical methods in gas and dust dynamics to study the theory of these processes. These studies are particularly important in assessing the robustness of planet formation.
I have accepted a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship at the National Center for Theoretical Sciences in Taiwan.
Best advice you received
I have received countless amounts of advice from fellow graduates, students, and faculty members in the department. However, the one that sticks out most is “as long as you work hard, you will be successful.” I know that seems cliché, but I tried my best to fulfill that advice.
Favorite memory of UNLV
Every Friday morning, the students and faculty in astronomy would meet for our weekly “astro coffee,” where we would discuss any relevant scientific papers and chat over science gossip. I especially looked forward to this because being social is also essential for scientific advancement. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, we have not been able to meet in person for some time now.
Parting words for other students
Do not take everything so seriously, and do not sweat the small stuff. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the little details, but instead, we should be thinking about the bigger picture. I remember being stressed out about not getting that particular grade on an assignment or research project. However, I have learned throughout my academic career that grades do not define your potential.