Student Spotlight

Student Spotlight

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Complete the form below if you would like to nominate a current grad student (or yourself) to be featured in the Graduate Student Spotlight!

Nomination Form

Keilah DavisKeilah Davis

Doctoral Student, Physics & Astronomy

1. What is your area of research and why is it important? How have you balanced your research priorities with your other activities? 

As a nuclear (astro)physicist, I study stars and explosive stellar processes by probing the nuclear reactions that occur inside them. One of these explosions, x-ray bursts, occurs when a main sequence star and neutron star collide. This sets off a chain of nuclear reactions with observable features that can be modeled in computer simulations and seen with telescopes. However, these simulations and observations don’t currently agree. The missing piece is better nuclear data. I’m addressing this problem by designing and building a better detector that can make more precise measurements of key x-ray burst reactions.

2. What are the larger implications of this research?

My data will be used to improve x-ray burst models and close the gap between simulations and observations. It will also guide planning for future measurements at next-generation nuclear accelerator facilities.

Additionally, while I will use the new detector for these specific x-ray burst reactions, researchers across LSU, Florida State University and beyond will use it for the next 10+ years to study many different nuclear reactions relevant to astrophysics, nuclear structure, and nuclear energy. That’s very exciting.

3. What inspired you to choose this field of study? What benefits did you glean from participating in career and professional development programming while in your program?

I was inspired to pursue physics by my high school physics teacher, Dr. Webster. Then as an undergraduate, I used summer research experiences to explore different areas of physics. I knew I was interested in stars so in the summer after freshman year, I attended an astronomy program and analyzed telescope data of the centers of multiple galaxies. The project was interesting and confirmed my interests in astronomical objects, but I wanted to find new ways, outside of observational astronomy, to study them. In the summer after sophomore year, I attended a nuclear physics program. I was paired with a great mentor, Dr. Richard Longland, on an exciting nuclear astrophysics project. I continued working on that project until I graduated and even presented some of my work at the Division of Nuclear Physics conference and National Society of Black Physicists conference. All of these experiences convinced me I would enjoy continuing my studies in graduate school.

4. Why did you choose LSU to pursue your degree?

I chose LSU for the chance to work with Dr. Catherine Deibel, who has been an amazing mentor to me in my first two years here. I also knew I would benefit from the mentoring and professional development from the Bridge to the Doctorate (BD) program. Both Dr. Deibel and BD have been integral to my growth and success at LSU.

5. What are your future/long-term plans?  

I plan to continue my research career as a professor or national lab scientist.