A WVU project took a West Virginia high school student across the universe and made him a star.

Lucas Bolyard, a sophomore at South Harrison High School, visited the White House recently for President Obama’s inaugural Star party, an event connected with the International Year of Astronomy.

In March, Bolyard discovered a rotating radio transient, rare type of neutron star, while taking part in the Pulsar Search Collaboratory, a collaboration between the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and WVU, funded by a $892,838 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

At WVU, the project is coordinated by Duncan Lorimer and Maura McLaughlin, assistant professors in the Department of Physics. McLaughlin and Lorimer are world-renowned experts in radio pulsars and use the Green Bank Telescope regularly for their research.

The effort involves 60 teachers and around 600 students in helping astronomers analyze data from 1,500 hours of observing time on the Green Bank Telescope.

Bolyard’s discovery was confirmed this summer in July.

“It’s a well-deserved honor for Lucas,” Lorimer said. “He was one of the most enthusiastic students involved in the project. He’s one of these youngsters that never gives up, he’s very persistent and he has all the attributes that a scientist should have.”

Rotating radio transients are thought to be similar to pulsars, superdense neutron stars that are the corpses of massive stars that exploded as supernovae. Pulsars are known for their lighthouse-like beams of radio waves that sweep through space as the neutron star rotates, creating a pulse as the beam sweeps by a radio telescope. While pulsars emit these radio waves continuously, rotating radio transients emit only sporadically, one burst at a time, with as much as several hours between bursts. Because of this, they are difficult to discover and observe. Only about 30 are known to exist.

Bolyard joined President Obama, his wife Michelle, around 150 middle and high school students and a roster of guests including former and current astronauts.

As of a year ago, Bolyard said he wouldn’t have thought of becoming astronomer, but this has given him second thoughts. “Making this discovery has made me very excited to get into a scientific field,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it.”

To read the complete story of Lucas Bolyard’s discovery, visit the NRAO website.

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