• Welcome!
    I'm James DerKacy,
    and I study supernovae

    Img: NASA/ESA, The Hubble Key Project Team and The High-Z Supernova Search Team
About Me

Who Am I?

Hello I'm James DerKacy and I am currently a graduate student in the Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Oklahoma working towards a Ph.D. in physics with a specialization in astronomy. My research focuses on both theoretical and observational aspects of supernova; in particular, their spectra and their progenitor systems.

My Research

Current and Past Projects

As part of the SN Numerical Radiative Transfer Group (SNNRTG) here at OU, I utilize the PHOENIX code to simulate spectra of a variety of supernovae for comparison to observational data. My current focus is generating spectra to better explain the diversity of Type Ia SNe, including focuses on the ultraviolet and better understanding the root causes of the differences in optical spectra between different Branch subgroups. I've also worked on examining whether or not super-luminous supernova (SLSN) may be caused by the interaction between the supernova ejecta and circumstellar material, or by other more exotic mechanisms like magnetars. This class of supernovae are roughly 2 to 3 magnitudes brighter (or 10x more luminous) than a standard Type Ia SN at peak brightness, and their luminosity cannot currently be explained by traditional models.

Additionally, I use part of OU's time allotment on the 3.5 m telescope at Apache Point Observatory to collect optical spectra of supernovae from early times through the nebular phase for multiple projects. Through our work with the Precision Observations of Infant Supernovae Explosions (POISE) collaboration we are actively working to obtain rapid cadence, multi-wavelength photometry and spectroscopy as close to explosion as possible to answer many outstanding questions about supernova progenitors through detailed studies of the outer ejecta. With this data, we hope to be able to answer outstanding questions about the progenitors and explosion mechanics of all types of supernovae.

During my undergraduate career, I interned at Argonne National Laboratory under the supervision of Steve Kuhlmann through the SULI program, working primarily to assist in the development of silicon photonics for use as atmospheric OH filters. I also provided assistance to the Dark Energy Survey (DES) Supernova group at Argonne, including analysis of supernova light curves and identifying targets for spectroscopic follow-up. Information on the silicon photonics project can be found here and information on DES and its mission are located here.

A listing of all works I've written or contributed to can be found here.


Curriculum Vitae

Download my full CV here

Educational History

  • Ph.D. University of Oklahoma, Expected May 2022 (Tentative)
  • M.S. University of Oklahoma, 2018
  • B.A. North Central College, 2015

Research Experience

  • Research Assistant, University of Oklahoma, 2015 - Current
  • SULI Internship, Argonne National Laboratory, 2014


  • Ultraviolet Spectra of Type Ia Supernovae, University of Kansas Astronomy and Space Physics Seminar, October 2021
  • SN 2021fxy: A "Shallow-Silicon" Type Ia Supernova Masquerading As A "Core-Normal", Apache Point Observatory Science Symposium, July 2021
  • Probing Spectral Formation of Type Ia Supernovae using PHOENIX, 237th AAS Meeting, January 2021
  • Ultraviolet Line Identification and Spectral Formation Near Max-light in Type Ia Supernova 2011fe, CSP Collaboration Workshop, September 2020
  • Ultraviolet Line Identifications in Near Max Light Spectra of Type Ia Supernova 2011fe (Poster), 235th AAS Meeting, January 2020
  • Models of Interacting Supernovae: Understanding the Physics and Probing the Circumstellar Environment (Poster), MidAmerican Regional Astrophysics Conference, April 2018
  • OH Line Suppression Research for Future Near-Infrared Camera Development (Poster), Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research, North Central College, May 2015
  • OH Line Suppression Research for Future Near-Infrared Camera Development, 24th Annual Argonne Undergraduate Research Symposium, Argonne National Lab, October 2014

Teaching Experience

  • ASTR 5453 - Extragalactic Astronomy & Cosmology - Grader, Spring 2021
  • ASTR 5900 - Numerical Methods - Grader, Spring 2021
  • ASTR 3103 - Stars - Grader, Fall 2020
  • PHYS 2414 - General Physics I for Engineering Majors - Discussion, Spring 2017
  • PHYS 2524 - General Physics I for Life Science Majors - Discussion, Summer 2016
  • ASTR 1514 - Astronomy: Exploring the Universe - Laboratory, Fall 2015 - Fall 2016
  • PHY 142 - Physics II - Laboratory, Winter 2013
  • PHY 141 - Physics I - Laboratory, Fall 2012

Department Service

  • GPSI, President 2019-2020
  • GPSI, Vice President 2017-2019
  • Lunar Sooners, Engineer 2016-2017
Qualifier Solutions

Here be dragons!

Throughout my time in the department the method most recommended to study for qualifying exams has been to work old qualifier problems, focusing on the most frequently asked topics first. To that end, I have assembled my solutions to numerous old qualifiers for other students to utilize during their studying. These solutions span qualifying exams going back more than a decade and are available in gzip files below. These gzip files also include review notes complied by myself and other former graduate students for your use as well. Additionally, a pdf copy of the topic breakdown of qualifier questions between 2008 and 2016 is available for the three physics exams (a topic list for the astronomy exam is included in the gzip file).

Note: I do not guarantee the correctness of all solutions that I have provided; in fact several solutions are outright wrong, and I attempted to note these solutions when I was intelligent enough to recognize my stupidity. Additionally, several solutions are incomplete or simply undone.

Get in Touch

Contact Me

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