My research is focused primarily on understanding the earliest stages of massive star and cluster formation.  Despite their profound impact on our universe throughout cosmic history and today, the formation mechanism for massive stars remains unkown.  Massive stars (almost) always form alongside other stars in clusters.  Observing the early phases of a massive stars' life is a challenging task.  Massive stars are more rare, and therefore, farther away on average than low-mass stars as well as being highly embedded  in  a cold, dense cocoon.  Additionally, once the star is formed, it quickly heats and ionizes their surrounding environment, erasing much information about it's natal molecular cloud.

Infrared Dark Cloud
An example of an Infrared Dark Cloud seen in absorption in this 3-color mid-IR image.  The contours are cold dust emission seen in millimeter emission.  Image from Battersby et al. 2010

    Understanding how and where massive stars and stellar clusters form is a cornerstone of modern astrophysics.  My approach to addressing these questions has been multi-fold: i) to identify where massive stars and clusters are forming or may form, ii) to characterize the structure of these regions, iii) to observe how the star formation tracers evolve from dense gas clumps into young stellar clusters, and iv) to measure the gas dynamics which help transform dense gas clumps into young stellar clusters. In my previous and current research, I tackle various aspects of these long-term goals. Much work remains to paint a cohesive picture of the process of star cluster formation, and my previous research acts as a stepping-stone to future studies.

Evolutionary Sequence Cartoon
A cartoon depicting a possible observational evolutionary sequence for massive star and cluster formation from Battersby et al. 2010

    Using telescopes all around the world, I peer into the depths of IRDCs and other massive star-forming environments and try to understand the physical properties and evolution of these cold, dense clouds into bright massive stars and clusters.  

Temperature Evolution of Sources in Hi-GAL

The evolution of star formation tracers with temperature as seen with Hi-GAL dust continuum and Spitzer star formation tracers.  From Battersby et al. 2011

  I am a member of the Bolocam Galactic Plane Survey (BGPS) team, one of the first large-area, systematic surveys of the Galactic Plane in the millimeter continuumn, giving us an optically thin view of dust continuum emission from cold pre-star-forming regions throughout the Galaxy. I am also a member of the Hi-GAL team which provides a groundbreaking new look at our Galaxy in the far-IR with Herschel.

NH3 on the VLA
The high-resolution temperature (left) and density structure (N(H2) contours on left and right from 10^22 – 3 x 10^23 cm^-2) of a massive star forming PCC on sub-pc scales with the VLA. This source houses an evolved UCHII Region in the lower left, a complex of cold, compact cores in the middle of the filament, and a complex of hot cores actively forming stars to the north. From Battersby et al. 2012a.

Current Projects:

* High-resolution temperature maps of star-forming clumps using ammonia as a thermometer on the VLA,

* Determining the lifetime of phases in clustered star-forming regions, and

* The kinematics and dense gas dynamics in young cluster-forming regions.

Previous Projects:

* Characterizing the earliest evolutionary phases of cluster formation in Infrared Dark Clouds (IRDCs),

* Understanding the relationship between IRDCs and submm dust continuum sources using Hi-GAL, and

* Precise densitometry measurements in young star-forming clumps using formaldehyde absorption (on the GBT). 

Undergraduate Research:

As an undergraduate, I worked with the AzTEC instrument team at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  AzTEC is a bolometer camera that operates in the submm.  A major driving force in the development of AzTEC is to understand the population of submm galaxies.  I also worked with Preethi Pratap at MIT Haystack Observatory exploring the nature of Class I Methanol Masers.