Davidson Fellows - 2013 Fellow Alec Brenner


Alec Brenner

$10,000 Scholarship Recipient

Age: 18
McLean, VA
Category: Science
Project Title: “Viscoelastic Modeling of Tidal Heating in Terrestrial Exoplanets”______ _______ ________ ____ _______


Alec identified the potential effects of tidal heating on the geology and habitability of exoplanets, or planets in other solar systems. Tidal heating arises when the gravitational “tug” from a celestial body – such as a star – generates friction and heat within another – such as an exoplanet. By modeling the viscoelastic mechanics of tidal heating and magma convection, Alec determined the strength of tidal heating for each of 19 Earth-mass exoplanets, allowing him to infer basic information about these planets’ interior and surface conditions. One notable finding was that most of the planets he studied were susceptible to substantial tidal heating, in some cases enough to melt their surfaces entirely. This result suggests that tidally-heated Earth-mass exoplanets are a common occurrence, and demonstrated that tidal heating has a significant impact on the suitability of many exoplanets to harbor extraterrestrial life.

The past 20 years have seen the discovery of all 925 known exoplanets, with the rate of exoplanet discovery currently at about two per week, making exoplanetology one of the fastest growing fields in modern science. Alec’s research, combined with all research on exoplanets, could eventually result in the discovery of Earth-like exoplanets which are habitable. Tides are an often-neglected influence on planetary habitability, and could turn icy bodies into warm ones capable of sustaining life. The discovery of habitable planets could aid the search for extraterrestrial life, and could also find potential planets for future human colonization.

Alec attends the California Institute of Technology, where he plans to major in geological and planetary sciences.  He hopes to continue conducting scientific research through a career as a research geologist or astronomer.  Alec was a 2013 Intel Science Talent Search Semifinalist.  He won the 2013 Society of Exploration Geophysicist Anadarko Scholarship, and has won 59 local, state and national Science Olympiad tournaments since 2006.  He is an avid rock and fossil hunter, and birdwatcher.

Click the links below to view hi-res photos of Alec:

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Click here to view the full listing of the 2013 Davidson Fellows. 
Click here to view Alec's press release.

For all media inquiries, please contact DavidsonFellowsMedia@davidsongifted.org

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