Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Kevin France

Second Advisor

James Green

Third Advisor

Phil Armitage

Fourth Advisor

Ann-Marie Madigan

Fifth Advisor

Veronica Bierbaum


Understanding the evolution of gas over the lifetime of protoplanetary disks provides us with important clues about how planet formation mechanisms drive the diversity of exoplanetary systems observed to date. In the first part of my thesis, I discuss how I use fluorescent emission observations of molecular hydrogen (H2) in the far-ultraviolet (far-UV) with the Hubble Space Telescope to study the warm molecular regions (a AU) of planet-forming disks. I have created analytic disk models that produce synthetic H2 line profiles and statistically compare each disk realization with the data. I how the modeled radial distributions of H2 help provide important constraints on the radiation properties of gas left in the inner disk of protoplanetary disks as they evolve. Additionally, I analyzed the absorption component of these fluorescence features, embedded within the hydrogen Lyman-alpha emission line produced by the accretion of material onto the host protostar. I present column density and temperature estimates for the H2 populations in each disk sightline, and discuss the behavior and possible spatial origins of these hot molecules.

As part of my thesis, I address some observational requirements needed to gain further insights into the behavior of the warm, gaseous protoplanetary disk, focusing specifically on a spectrograph concept for the next-generation LUVOIR Surveyor. I discuss a testbed instrument, the Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph (CHESS), built as a demonstration of one component of the LUVOIR spectrograph and new technological improvements to UV optical components for the next generation of near- to far-UV astrophysical observatories. CHESS is a far-UV sounding rocket experiment designed to probe the warm and cool atoms and molecules near sites of recent star formation in the local interstellar medium. I present the science goals, design, research and development components, and calibration of the CHESS instrument. I provide results on observations taken during both launches of CHESS, with detailed analysis of the $\epsilon$ Per sightline, as inferred from the flight data. I conclude by providing future works and simple estimates of the performance of an instrument like CHESS on LUVOIR to study planet-forming environments.