​​San José State undergraduate students Michael Sandoval and Richard Vo searched for new galaxies by poring through public data sets, including observations from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Under the supervision of Assistant Professor Aaron Romanowsky, Vo discovered the densest known galaxy. Shortly thereafter, Sandoval discovered an even denser object—so unusual it was put in a class of its own: a hypercompact cluster.

These discoveries were reported in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The students also went to Hawaii to participate in a follow-up of their discoveries using the world's largest telescope at the W.M. Keck Observatory. Both students have gone on to graduate school to study astrophysics.

The success of this project has motivated the development of new curricula in data science, training other student researchers in data mining and preparing them for the data avalanche anticipated from the next generation of observatories.

Prepared by the experience of working with Dr. Romanowsky, Sandoval is now pursuing a Ph.D. in physics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Vo is pursuing a master's in physics at San Francisco State.​

Dr. Romanowsky continues to mentor students in this type of study. "The combination of a good idea, the students' perseverance, and the use of public data resources is a great way to engage undergraduates in frontline astronomical research," he says.