My name is Nienke van der Marel and since May 2011 I am a PhD student Astronomy at the Leiden Observatory, working with Ewine van Dishoeck on transitional disks. I finished my Master in Astronomy in April 2011, after obtaining my Bachelors in Physics and Astronomy in 2009, all at Leiden University. My main research interests are astrochemistry and instrumentation.
The main goal of my PhD is to resolve the molecular gas inside the holes of transitional disks, using millimeter interferometry with the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA). Our ALMA Early Science program on IRS 48 was a big surprise: instead of the ring like structure in the dust seen in other disks, we found a highly asymmetric dust distribution. After getting in contact with the dust modeling group in Heidelberg, it turned out we had discovered one of their recent predictions: a dust trap that could help dust particles grow. About six months later, our results were accepted in Science and published on June 7th. An overview of the press coverage can be found here.
Other happenings: in a few months I hope to receive another set of ALMA data on other transition disks. In the mean time, I am working on a large survey of transitional disk candidates, analyzing their SEDs using data from e.g. Spitzer, JCMT and APEX.