Student makes redshifting a breeze

Professor Tapan Saha (UQ), Chair of IEEE Queensland, presents Samuel Hinton with his award at the IEEE Queensland 2014 Annual General Meeting on 3 December. Credit: IEEE Queensland

Professor Tapan Saha (UQ), Chair of IEEE Queensland, presents Samuel Hinton with his award at the IEEE Queensland 2014 Annual General Meeting on 3 December. Credit: IEEE Queensland

CAASTRO student Samuel Hinton has just made many astronomers’ lives a whole lot easier—and has won an award for his trouble.

Samuel, a software engineering student at the University of Queensland, has received the 2014 Student Thesis prize given by the Queensland chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

For his thesis Samuel developed new software for a CAASTRO-supported project, the OzDES redshift survey. Called Marz, the software could greatly speed up the process of obtaining redshifts from OzDES observations.

The user can simply drag and drop a file containing a galaxy spectrum into Marz, which then automatically processes the file and derives a redshift for the galaxy. The program has further features that allow users to verify automatic redshifts, perform manual redshifting, mark spectral lines, and more.

The software is written as a ‘client-only’ website, meaning that users don’t have to install any software or perform any upgrades. “To my knowledge, it is the largest existing client-only web application for scientific analysis of data,” Samuel said.

Different telescope instruments generate data files of different formats, and Marz is currently specific to the AAOmega spectrograph, which OzDES uses. “But it would be very easy to extend it to other instruments, if I had a sample file from another survey,” said Samuel.

“I would hope that many aspects of Marz could become standard. It isn't a perfect program, but I think it would be a fantastic base for anyone trying to do something similar.”

Samuel’s thesis also won the GroundProbe Prize (‘Best in microwave, photonics and communications’) at the UQ Innovation Showcase event in November.