Putting the Stars in Perspective

Spring, 2024

Catherine Lovekin’s main research is dedicated to understanding the heat-transfer process in stars. In particular, she studies the “convective overshoot” where the circular currents that exist in stars go a little beyond their theoretical boundaries.

“We Catherine Lovekin photodon't really know how much of this overshoot there should be, so I use asteroseismology, which is a way of measuring the variations in stars, to try to figure that out,” explains Lovekin, associate professor of physics at New Brunswick’s Mount Allison University. “Stars pulsate and they have variations like waves on a head of a drum or something. And I'm trying to use those waves to understand the interior of the stars.”

The overshoot is important, she says, as it changes how big the core of the star is, so it also changes all kinds of things about the subsequent evolution, and what elements are produced —  for example, how much fuel it has for nuclear fusion. It can change the lifetime of the star.

The hope is that eventually she and others who are working on the same question will get enough of a sample that they can start to see patterns. For example, maybe the overshoot behaves differently in high mass stars compared to low mass stars, or maybe it changes as stars evolve, meaning that older stars have different values than younger stars.

While Lovekin is working mostly on individual stars, her students are looking at stars that have pulsations and that are part of a binary system — in effect, two stars in orbit around each other. Looking at the stars this way, she says, is a good way to constrain things such as the diameter, temperature and mass of the star.

As her research has expanded to the way in which binary stars behave, her models have become that much more computationally intensive, to the point where she now can’t do her work without the services of high-performance computing (HPC) — in this case, from ACENET.

“I could do some aspects of my work without those resources, but it would take me years longer without something like ACENET.”

Lovekin’s relationship with HPC goes back a long way. She was an early user of the HPC computing from the Digital Research Alliance of Canada, then called Compute Canada, which is the national partner of ACENET. And today, her students are all using ACENET.

“The ACENET training that is offered every May is so useful,” she says. “I just tell my students to sign up. It really helps get them started. The ACENET folks have so much more experience with helping to train people on the system. When my students start working with me, they all know how to run these models because of their ACENET training.”