Faculty Profile

Catrina Hamilton-Drager

Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy (2006)

Contact Information


Tome Scientific Building Room 212


Professor Hamilton-Drager's research focuses mainly on young stars in the process of forming. She has examined the rotation rates of stars in clusters of different ages to trace the evolution of angular momentum. Stars naturally spin up as they contract while forming (like the ice skater who pulls in her arms). However, some stars are observed to spin fast (P < 2 days), while some spin slowly (3 < P < 14 days). Her research is exploring the interaction of the star's magnetic field and its circumstellar disk, or the material out of which planets will eventually form. Looking at stars in clusters of varying ages (1, 3, 5, 10 million years) allows one to assess exactly how long it takes for stars spin up and thereby infers a possible length of time associated with planet formation. As the disks dissipate, due to planet formation or other factors (high energy winds from nearby hot stars), the stars are freed and allowed to spin up. Professor Hamilton-Drager is probably best known for her pioneering work on the young stellar system known as KH 15D. The KH 15D system is a binary system surrounded by a circumbinary ring. Its light output has been evolving since ~1960 as a result of the gradual precession of the ring in front of the orbit of the binary. The ring acts as a natural coronagraph and provides us with information about the close environment of one of the stars. Her spectral observations show that star A's magnetosphere varies with time, sometimes compact (~1 stellar radius), while at other times, substantially larger (~2 stellar radii or more). There is also evidence for enhanced accretion following periastron passage (generally larger flux values during egress than ingress) as predicted by the models of gas flow from a circumbinary disk through a gap to the binary.


  • B.A., Mount Holyoke College, 1991
  • M.S., Arizona State University, 1994
  • Ph.D., Wesleyan University, 2003

2017-2018 Academic Year

Fall 2017

FYSM 100 First-Year Seminar
The First-Year Seminar (FYS) introduces students to Dickinson as a "community of inquiry" by developing habits of mind essential to liberal learning. Through the study of a compelling issue or broad topic chosen by their faculty member, students will: - Critically analyze information and ideas - Examine issues from multiple perspectives - Discuss, debate and defend ideas, including one's own views, with clarity and reason - Develop discernment, facility and ethical responsibility in using information, and - Create clear academic writing The small group seminar format of this course promotes discussion and interaction among students and their professor. In addition, the professor serves as students' initial academic advisor. This course does not duplicate in content any other course in the curriculum and may not be used to fulfill any other graduation requirement.

PHYS 306 Astronomy Techniques

PHYS 550 Independent Research

Spring 2018

PHYS 132 Introductory Physics
An introduction to basic physics topics using the workshop method. This method combines inquiry-based cooperative learning with the comprehensive use of computer tools for data acquisition, data analysis and mathematical modeling. Topics in thermodynamics, electricity, electronics and magnetism are covered. Additional topics in chaos or nuclear radiation are introduced. Basic calculus concepts are used throughout the course. Recommended for physical science, mathematics, and pre-engineering students and for biology majors preparing for graduate study. Three two-hour sessions per week. (Students enrolled in Physics 132 who have completed Mathematics 170 are encouraged to continue their mathematics preparation while taking physics by enrolling in Mathematics 171.) Because of the similarity in course content, students will not receive graduation credit for both 132 and 142. Prerequisite: 131 and completion of, or concurrent enrollment in MATH 170.

PHYS 500 Independent Study