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Research: Protoplanetary Disks

My thesis work consists of two parts: A slanted quasi-geostrophic (QG) model used to study geophysical turbulence; and a protoplanetary disk model of the gas that surrounds young stars.

Protoplanetary disk models are used to study Rossby waves, shear instabilities, and vortex formation in gas disks around young stars that eventually lead to planetary formation. In collaboration with Glen Stewart (LASP) I am studying a reduced, coupled system for vorticity and temperature which was derived from the anelastic equations. Linear analysis of this system shows that the conditions of radiative damping and a radial temperature gradient results in baroclinic instabilities which lead to vortices in the disk. These vortices efficiently concentrate gas and dust and are a potential mechanism for planetary formation. I have created a numerical model of this reduced equation set which is pseudo-spectral (Fourier-Chebyshev basis functions) on a 2D annulus. We will use these analytical and numerical tools to study the physical mechanisms that drive vortex formation in protoplanetary disks.


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