Astrophysics major finds joy in discovery


December 7, 2022

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

When Tyler Richey-Yowell signed up for physics during high school in her hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia, she didn’t expect to discover how much she loved learning how physics could explain how everything worked, from dropping a pencil to how our universe formed. Portrait of ASU grad Tyler Richey-Yowell. Photo courtesy Tyler Richey-Yowell Download Full Image

As her interest grew, she decided to study observational astronomy and attend Arizona State University for the invaluable connection to the telescope system in Arizona and Chile. This past summer, Richey-Yowell graduated from the School of Earth and Space Exploration with a PhD in astrophysics, and will walk at commencement this fall.

“I learned how much fun it is to be wrong,” Richey-Yowell said. “When I first started my research, we had a pretty good expectation for what the results would show. But it turned out to be something totally different — there was cool physics happening that our field was just starting to figure out, and my results were a part of that!”

Richey-Yowell credits her advisor Evgenya Shkolnik, associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, for teaching her the skills of how to be a researcher and the joy in discovering new things. "I first met Tyler when she applied to join my group at ASU,” said Shkolnik. “When I asked her what talks she found interesting at a recent conference, she pulled out a notebook with many pages of notes, and shared insightful observations, along with very perceptive questions. I was immediately impressed!”

Richey-Yowell was also a recipient of the Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST) award, focusing on the ultraviolet radiation around K stars and the potential habitability of planets orbiting these types of stars.

Since graduation, Richey-Yowell has joined the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, as the first Percival Lowell Postdoctoral Fellow, where she continues to study the evolution of stars and what this means for planetary habitability. Her advice to others still in school is: “Make sure you have a good advisor who will support you and find a great research group to lean on and learn from throughout grad school. Also, having at least one non-academic-related hobby is a good way to maintain a nice life balance.”

We asked her to share some thoughts about her time here at ASU.

Question: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

Answer: Walking into ISTB4 and seeing the rover replica and the Psyche replica always reminded me that I was a part of something bigger in trying to understand our universe. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I think that there is a big issue with communication in our society. I would love to create spaces to talk about and learn from each other about the connections between science, religion, art, community, etc., and to show that these things do fit together and depend on each other, rather than being separate issues.

Catherine Shappell

Digital communications specialist, School of Earth and Space Exploration

480-727-2870

Doctoral student creates important violin resource, inspires young students


December 7, 2022

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

When graduating violinist Sarah Abbott began research for her doctoral project on composers of violin sonatas, she discovered a great number of contributions from women in classical music that had been overlooked or even lost throughout history. Violinist Sarah Abbott. Download Full Image

Her research is considered a significant contribution to the field of violin compositions by both violin and composition faculty in the ASU School of Music, Dance and Theatre.

Abbott will graduate from Arizona State University in December with a Doctor of Musical Arts in violin performance.

“I began my research on 19th-century women composers while at ASU and was surprised by my discovery of the massive amount of incredible music that is hardly known today,” Abbott said. “Many women composers were admired during their lifetimes but are presently largely unknown. My research led me to learn just how brilliant they were despite receiving less opportunities than were given to men of that time.”

Abbot’s website, violinsonatasbywomen.com, identifies women composers of violin sonatas with biographical information and provides access to music editions and recordings.

“Sarah is a very caring person, determined to make an impact in the field,” said Jonathan Swartz, professor of violin in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and Abbott’s advisor. “She identified an area of research largely neglected and has created a resource for others to learn about and access violin sonatas by women composers. The website she created will continue to grow with her ongoing research, and I expect it to make a huge contribution to our profession.”

Abbott has performed throughout the United States and Europe and has played alongside classical artists such as Lynn Harrell, Robert McDuffie, Gil Shaham and Stefan Jackiw. She has been invited to perform with Michael Bublé and the Osmonds, and most recently with The Killers on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Abbott also performs regularly with the Utah and Grand Rapids symphonies.

Abbott also teaches young children violin and viola in her home studio, tailoring lessons to help meet the student’s specific goals. One of her top priorities is to inspire a love of music in students of all ages and capabilities and to guide them to reach their musical aspirations.

“One of my greatest joys has been teaching younger children, which I will continue,” Abbott said. “I have had the great honor to work with programs such as the Sphinx Organization, which provides free access to music instruction, and I plan on continuing outreach to students who are disadvantaged.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study violin performance?

Answer: My realization to pursue a career in violin was a gradual process rather than an "aha" moment. A few meaningful experiences during high school directed me to my decision. The first was taking violin lessons with Jack Ashton, former member of the Utah Symphony. Jack’s dedication, artistry and commitment to music education inspired me to reach new musical heights and start my own violin studio. The second experience was my orchestra classes. Being part of something bigger and playing such a vast variety of music was tremendously rewarding and led me to continue in my career path.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU's music program provides so many valuable opportunities. I was first drawn to ASU because I wanted to study under my violin professor, Jonathan Swartz. The opportunity to learn from him, as well as the other professors I studied with, was an incredible opportunity. I was also drawn to ASU because of their esteemed orchestral and chamber programs.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Jonathan Swartz taught me numerous lessons, the most important being that attention to detail is often the difference between a good artist and a great artist. Solving each small problem often leads to the big difference that sets one apart as an artist. Dr. Swartz taught me to search for better solutions and discover all possibilities. I was pushed to continue striving for excellence.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?

A: Do not be afraid to pave your own path. I have seen some people through the years wait on life or opportunities to happen to them. It is so important to create opportunities for yourself. Continue to have something to work toward like an audition, project or dream job, and then make it happen. No one else is going to do it for you.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The field outside Gammage Auditorium where I would play frisbee with friends.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to focus my attention on continuing my research on women composers and expand my website. I will also continue to perform with the Grand Rapids and Utah symphonies while working toward a university teaching position.

Q: Did you receive any scholarships while at ASU, and if so, which ones? What did it mean to you to be able to receive this funding?     

A: I had the honor of being both a member of the Herberger Quartet and the TA for the orchestral program. These two awards also provided scholarships for my doctoral program. I have been incredibly fortunate to have amazing professors and faculty at ASU who believed in me and supported me. I would not be here today if it were not for the opportunities they provided.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would work to provide more music education early on to lower-income schools and communities. Not everyone has the same privileges, talent or background, but everyone should have the opportunity to learn music and excel in it. Providing a musical education can have an incredible impact on children from disadvantaged backgrounds and give them an outlet they would not have otherwise. Music moves people and can change the trajectory of a child’s life.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music

480-727-7189