Paula Szkody

Paula Szkody

Contact Information

PAB C311


Professor Szkody uses a multiwavelength approach to study close binary stars with active mass transfer (Cataclysmic Variables). Her current research involves ultraviolet observations with the Hubble Space Telescope  as well as APO and ground-based optical facilities around the world.  She is currently finding the faintest, lowest mass transfer CVs  leading to insights into the nature of mass transfer and accretion onto magnetic and non-magnetic white dwarfs,  accretion disks and their X-ray-emitting boundary layers, stellar coronae, and the effects of irradiation on the upper atmospheres of late-type secondary stars.

My work involves observations of all types of close binary systems involving mass transfer onto a white dwarf. This includes novae, dwarf novae, and novalikes which are all termed Cataclysmic Variables (CVs). The magnetism of the white dwarf determines if the mass flow from the low mass companion will be through an accretion disk, a curtain or a funnel onto the magnetic poles. The structure of the accretion flow as well as the underlying stars is determined from multiwavelength observations from X-ray through ultraviolet and optical to the infrared. Many of these objects are being discovered through ground-based surveys (SDSS, CRTS, iPTF) and followup takes place from space and ground to determine their specific types and how they fit into population models of close binary formation.

I love observing with telescopes and feel lucky to have done my research in an era when astronomers actually went to telescopes. Each observatory has its own history and charm and I have been able to use all the telescopes at Kitt Peak, as well as observe at CTIO, Keck, Palomar, Mt. Wilson, Lick, McDonald, WHT, MMT, APO, IRTF, MDM, Mt. Lemmon, Lowell, Mt. John, MRO. Working with space satellites is also unique and I have been able to garner observing time on HST, GALEX, FUSE, EUVE, IUE, Chandra, XMM, ROSAT, RXTE, Ginga, ASCA and EXOSAT.

When I’m not observing or analyzing data or writing proposals, I like to hike, kayak, travel and spend time with my children and grandchildren.