Saint Martin’s physics faculty member Andrea Kunder, Ph.D., earns grant from M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust for research on the formation of the Milky Way

LACEY, Wash. – Andrea Kunder, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics at Saint Martin’s University, received a grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust of Vancouver, Washington, for her project, Bulge Radial Velocity Assay – RR Lyrae (BRAVA—RR) Survey: Mapping the Bulge with RR Lyrae Stars.

Kunder’s project will focus on studying stars that lie at the very center (or bulge) of the Milky Way. Kunder and her colleagues believe they have uncovered an old component of stars lying in the very center of the Milky Way that are moving in circular motions and not in the cylindrical manner that is expected. For her project, Kunder aims to scrutinize those stars, establish why they are moving differently and determine how much older they are than the bulk of the stars in the center of the Milky Way and the stars on the outskirts of the galaxy. This will provide new clues to understand the intricate processes that went into the formation of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Kunder and her students will study the bulge stars by collecting new observations at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona at the end of May and calculating motions of other stars throughout the summer. In addition, they will determine the chemical compositions of the old stars by developing new, sophisticated methods for spectroscopy in collaboration with George Wallerstein, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of Washington, Michael Rich, Ph.D., research astronomer at UCLA and Christian Johnson, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“I remember what it was like the first time I went to a research telescope to collect observations of stars,” Kunder said. “On one hand, it was exhausting staying up all night and carrying out the many tasks and checks to ensure everything was actually working. But on the other hand, it was exhilarating. I am thrilled to now be in the position to take my three students observing at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. They will likely forget the details of the day-to-day tasks of their research over the summer, but I think the experience of using a professional telescope, and the spectacular sunsets, sunrises and crystal clear skies on Kitt Peak will not be forgotten as easily. I want to impart on my students the excitement of understanding the world around us, and how using the scientific principles we are teaching at Saint Martin’s enables us to explore and discover the universe we are part of.”

M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, created by the will of the late Melvin. J. (Jack) Murdock, provides grants to organizations in five states of the Pacific Northwest—Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington—that seek to strengthen the region’s educational and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways. More information is available at