Laurent was an undergraduate student in mathematics and physics at Université de Montréal in 2016-2017. He previously completed a software engineering undergraduate degree at McGill University. He did an internship at iREx during the summer of 2017, with Nicolas Cowan and Holly Sheets.
The goal was to develop tools to analyze more efficiently exoplanet atmospheric data from ground-based and space-based telescopes. These data allow to measure the reflexion of the atmospheres, the infrared opacity, the heat transport and to map the exoplanets.
My internship was about trying to detect the refraction of light in the atmosphere of a planet right before and after it transits.
This is very interesting because it provides a unique way of looking for atmospheres in certain exoplanets. Depending on the result, you can either confirm the current models or improve them. It can also give insight into how thick the atmosphere is and whether the atmospheres absorbs a lot of light or not.
We discovered that the atmospheres of the observed exoplanets have a much smaller refraction signal than expected with our current models. This confirms us that the models presented so far are inaccurate in representing the actual refraction effect. There is also a possibility that the atmospheres are very cloudy.
I learned how to use mathematical tools in python in order to analyze big datasets. I learned how to go through scientific papers and understand the essence of the content. I also learned how to ask the right questions and how to tackle a series of problems more efficiently.
The biggest challenge was trying to catch up to the literature on the subject. Most of the papers were difficult to go through at first due to the degree of knowledge required to understand them correctly. However, I’m glad I had to go through a lot of papers as it is an essential skill when doing research.
I really liked the fact that research is a team effort. It is comforting to be able to ask questions to experts about subjects you are just beginning in. The project itself was very interesting and I’m glad we were able to get a significant result out of it.