News from the Department (2010)

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December 2010

  • The second CARMA symposium will be held in Berkeley from February 28 to March 1, 2011. The symposium will bring together researchers from within and outside the CARMA consortium to discuss recent science results from CARMA, current and future technical developments on the telescope, and thoughts on ambitious future projects that might be undertaken with CARMA in the ALMA era. More information about the symposium can be found at the conference website and will be updated as planning progresses. Registration will be open through January 28, 2011.

November 2010

  • Professor Andy Harris' Zpectrometer ultra-wideband spectrometer at the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia was 'instrumental' in determining the redshifts of two distant galaxies (z~3) for a major gravitational lensing study published in Science. This work demonstrated the ability of the Herschel space telescope to discover gravitationally-lensed galaxies from the early Universe at a much higher rate than earlier methods. See the NSF story for an fuller discussion of the project.

  • The EPOXI space mission, using the Deep Impact spacecraft with Prof. Mike A'Hearn as PI, made its closest approach to Comet Hartley 2 on November 4. Information about the mission is available at the EPOXI website, and the first science results are becoming available. Here are links to stories in the NY Times and the Washington Post, as well as the UMD Newsdesk. Congratulations to the EPOXI team!

  • Former undergraduate Carolyn Crow and former Research Professor Lucy McFadden recently had a paper accepted to the Astrophysical Journal. It uses Deep Impact observations of solar system planets to show how colors may be used in the future to identify earthlike planets around other stars. The story has been picked up by various media; see and for examples.

  • "The Ins and Outs of Black Holes", Annapolis, MD, Nov. 17-19: The Joint Space-Science Institute (JSI), consisting of astrophysicists and physicists from the University of Maryland and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, hosted this cross-cutting conference to examine the physics and astrophysics of energy flows in and around black holes. 104 scientists from around the world came to discuss observations, phenomenology, fundamental theory and how they all fit together. The meeting was a great success, and another one is planned for next year.

October 2010

  • The Department of Astronomy has received approval from UMCP Interim President Farvardin to hire Dr. Jessica Sunshine and Dr. Drake Deming at the full Professor level, effective July 1, 2011. Dr. Sunshine is a planetary scientist who studies the composition, origin, and evolution of the lunar surface, asteroids, and comets. She was on the team that discovered traces of water across the entire surface of the Moon. Dr. Deming is an exoplanet researcher who is the PI for NASA's DIXI space mission and won the AAS Tinley Prize for the first direct detection of light from an exoplanet. Welcome, Drs. Sunshine and Deming!

  • Emeritus Professor William K. Rose passed away on Sept. 30 at the age of 75. He was a distinguished researcher, teacher, and mentor whose primary scientific focus was on radio emissions from a variety of sources, including supernova remnants and extragalactic jets. He will be deeply missed by our department.

September 2010

  • Two students in our Science, Discovery, and the Universe unit in the undergraduate College Park Scholars (CPS) program have won CPS awards. Natsuha Kuroda is this year's winner (and SDU's fourth consecutive winner) of the Shapiro Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award for her research with Dr. Gopalswamy at NASA/Goddard. Albert Wavering won the Pattison Creativity Award for the mechanical drum he constructed based on sketches by Leonardo DaVinci. Since there are 11 units in CPS and only 6 prizes, this is quite an accomplishment!

  • Stacy McGaugh, Neal Miller, and Cole Miller talked about the origin of the universe, stars, and black holes on September 8 at the UMD Observatory. This was part of the kick-off week activities for the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange performance "The Matter of Origins" at the Clarice Smith Center. After the talks, Drs. McGaugh, Miller, and Miller engaged the 52 attendees in a panel discussion, which was followed by telescope observing and a sky tour.

August 2010

  • The University of Maryland and Pontificia Universidad Católica in Chile have signed an agreement to allow Astronomy graduate students at both institutions to participate in a joint-Ph.D. program. Such students would split their time between both institutions and would conduct their thesis research under the supervision of UMD and PUC co-advisors. UMD students would have improved access to Chilean observatories, which include many of the best telescopes in the world. This is one of the first steps in a larger partnership being planned between UMD and PUC to take advantage of the strengths of both institutions. For more details, see the UMD Newsdesk article or contact Prof. Alberto Bolatto.

  • Professor Richard Mushotzky has received the Robert H. Goddard Award of Merit. This NASA/Goddard award recognizes individuals "whose careers and accomplishments demonstrate the highest qualities of achievement and professionalism in the employee's chosen field." It is normally reserved for those with 20 or more years of federal service and is the highest honor that Goddard bestows.

  • Professor Alberto Bolatto has won a 5-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award for his proposal "Placing the Star Formation Law in the Cosmological Context". This is one of the National Science Foundation's most prestigious funding awards. It supports "the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of integrated contributions to research and education".

June 2010

  • Alumnus Charles L. Bennett (B.S. '78 Astronomy and Physics), with Lyman Page and David Spergel, was awarded the Shaw Prize in Astronomy in May 2010 for their leadership of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) experiment, which has enabled precise determinations of the fundamental cosmological parameters, including the geometry, age and composition of the universe. The Shaw Prize, administered by The Shaw Prize Foundation based in Hong Kong, is an international award to honor individuals who are currently active in their respective fields and who have achieved distinguished and significant advances.

  • The CARMA (Combined Array for Millimeter-wave Astronomy) observatory near Big Pine, California held an open house on June 12 which attracted over 330 visitors. Visitors had the opportunity to view state-of-the-art radio telescopes up close, tour the site, view displays, and ask questions of astronomers. The annual open house is hosted by the University of Maryland, the University of Chicago, the California Institute of Technology, University of California-Berkeley and the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.

  • Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist Mukul Kundu passed away on June 16 at the age of 80. His career in solar radio astronomy encompassed a wide range of discoveries. In 2007, he won the top prize in solar astronomy, the Hale Prize awarded by the American Astronomical Society. He was a former chair of the Department of Astronomy (early 1980s) and will be sorely missed. His memorial service is June 22, noon-1pm, at the Fleck Memorial Home in Laurel, MD.

May 2010

  • Grad student Mike Koss and his SWIFT satellite research with Prof. Richard Mushotzky on the role of galaxy mergers in turning on supermassive black holes were featured in a NASA press release issued on May 26. Mike, along with SWIFT PI Neil Gehrels, participated in a press telecon for the press release. Prof. Sylvain Veilleux and Lisa Winter, Ph.D. '08, are co-authors in the paper, which will appear in ApJ Letters.

  • The groundbreaking ceremony for the Physical Sciences Complex (PSC) took place on May 24, 2010 in LOT DD from 10am to 12 noon. Speakers included Governor O'Malley, President Mote, Patrick Gallagher (Director of NIST), and Representative Steny Hoyer (House Majority Leader). This state-of-the-art, silver-certified LEED building will house large parts of the Astronomy and Physics departments as well as other CMPS groups. Construction is expected to be complete in 2013. Here is a nice fly-through video of what the completed building will look like!

  • Prof. Richard Mushotzky has been named an Israel Pollak Distinguished Lecturer for the 2010/2011 academic year at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The Israel Pollak Distinguished Lecture Series was established at the Technion in 1996. Two Pollak Lecturers are chosen each year from all areas of science and engineering. Previous recipients of this honor have included Sir John Thomas of Cambridge University (England), Professor Juergen Troe, Director of the Max Planck Institute, Goettingen, Germany, and Professor William H. Miller of the University of California at Berkeley.

April 2010

  • Dr. Stefi Baum, Ph.D. '87, received the Department of Astronomy's 2010 CMPS Distinguished Alumni Award and was recognized at the CMPS Academic Festival on April 30. Dr. Baum was Full Astronomer and Division Head for Engineering & Software Services at STScI, then took a leave of absence to serve as Senior Science/Diplomacy Fellow at the State Department in 2002-04 before assuming her current position as Director of the Center for Imaging Science at Rochester Institute of Technology and endowed Xerox Chair professor. Her science focuses on AGN; she has more than 180 refereed publications and more than 8000 citations.

  • A number of undergraduates presented space science research projects at the 14th Annual Academic Showcase for the College Park Scholars program on April 30. Astronomy majors included Karina Alvarez (Baryonic Tully-Fisher Relation with Prof. McGaugh), Mike Bergamo (solar studies with STEREO), Marie Bernard (outreach work with Ms. Warner), and Katie Handler (laser-based scatterometer studies). Other CPS students with space science projects were Justin Brannan, Josh Fogel, Natsuha Kuroda, and Joe Tylka.

  • Dr. Neil Gehrels has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. been elected to the National Academy of Sciences in recognition of distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Established in 1863, the Academy is an honorific society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Neil is an Adjunct Professor (soon to be College Park Professor) in the Astronomy Department and is Chief of the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory at NASA/Goddard. Congratulations, Neil!

  • Grad student Mia Bovill has won the 2010 CMPS Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award! This award is given each year to the top one or two teaching assistants in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Physical Sciences. Her award will be presented at the CMPS Academic Festival in the Math Rotunda on Friday, April 30 at 3pm. Congratulations, Mia!

  • Prof. Andrew Harris and Dr. Laura Hainline published an article with collaborators in the April 1 issue of Nature in which the authors made direct measurements of the size and luminosity of star-forming regions in a lensed galaxy at z=2.3! Harris and Hainline determined the galaxy's redshift using the Zpectrometer instrument at the Green Bank Telescope.

March 2010

  • The Maryland Center for Fundamental Physics, the newly-formed Joint Space-Science Institute, and the Departments of Physics and Astronomy are organizing a workshop on "Advances in Theoretical and Observational Cosmology," from May 26-28, 2010. It will take place in the Physics Building, room 1201. Details of the workshop are available here.

  • The Department of Astronomy participated in the 2010 Girl Scout Day at the National Air & Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on Mar. 13. We used spectral light tubes to discuss the nature of light and what astronomers can learn from it; other highlights included our orrery, star charts, and assorted giveaway goodies. The girls had a great time, and we distributed over a thousand diffraction grating glasses! Many thanks to those who volunteered their time, including Elizabeth Warner, Eric McKenzie, alumna Misty Stevens, sophomore major Megan Johnson, and AstroTerps Saunam Vij and Bilal Siddiqi.

  • Prof. Doug Hamilton has won a University of Maryland Board of Regents' Faculty Award for Scholarship, the highest award conferred by the University of Maryland System. Quoting from the award web site, "The Regents' Faculty Awards publicly recognize distinguished performance on the part of faculty members. This award is the highest honor presented by the Board of Regents to exemplary faculty members." Congratulations, Doug!

  • Two Research Associates, Jianyang Li and Neal Miller, have been approved for appointments as Assistant Research Scientist and Assistant Research Professor respectively. Dr. Li's work is on the characteristics of asteroids and other small Solar System bodies. Dr. Miller researches star formation and active galactic nuclei, and he is also Co-Director of the Science, Discovery & the Universe program within College Park Scholars. Congratulations, Jianyang and Neal!

  • Faculty research assistant Jen Miller discovered a planetary nebula which she has informally christened "Jenebula" :-). The discovery was made as part of the Gould Belt Survey using the Spitzer Space Telescope. The nebula's peak emission is at 24 microns, but it has been imaged in twelve different wavelength bands from optical to far-IR. Jen is about to leave for a position at the Harvard-Smithsonian Submillimeter Array on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. We wish her well!

  • On March 4, 2010, President Mote and NASA/Goddard Director Rob Strain signed a Memorandum of Understanding to promote collaboration between NASA/Goddard and the University of Maryland. They also signed a Space Act Agreement between the two institutions to launch the Joint Space-Science Institute (JSI), a partnership between the Departments of Astronomy and Physics and NASA/Goddard, with Astronomy's Prof. Chris Reynolds as Director. We're looking forward to excellent science and many new opportunities as a result!

February 2010

  • Work by a collaboration including Prof. Alberto Bolatto was highlighted in Nature's News and Views recently. They present observations of galaxies in the early universe that indicate that even "normal" galaxies had ten times as much molecular gas as present-day galaxies.

  • Alumnus Jim Ulvestad, Ph.D. '81, has been appointed to the National Science Foundation's Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate as Division Director for Astronomical Sciences, effective March 1, 2010. Jim has most recently been the Assistant Director for the U.S. National Radio Observatory (NRAO). His research interests focus on radio interferometric imaging of active galactic nuclei in order to study the process of accretion on massive black holes.

January 2010

  • Prof. Mike A'Hearn has been vice-chairing the National Research Council committee on the threat of impacts by near-earth comets and asteroids and is chair of the Mitigation panel. The committee released its report last week, titled "Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies". The story has been picked up on NPR, Scientific American, and many other news sources.

  • Prof. Dennis Papadopoulos, Dr. Xi Shao, and Dr. Surja Sharma made the cover of the Jan. 2010 issues of "Physics of Plasmas" with a figure from their recent co-authored paper, "Generation of whistler waves by a rotating magnetic field source."

  • Montgomery Blair High School students Roger Curley and Dalton Wu, who worked with Ashley Zauderer (Graduate Student, Astronomy, advisor Stuart Vogel) and Peter Teuben (Astronomy), were selected as regional finalists in the prestigious Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology for their CARMA Paired Antennas Calibration System (PACS) project. The students were among 96 finalists nationwide. Additional guidance was provided by Alberto Bolatto, Marc Pound, and Lee Mundy (all Astronomy).

  • Alumnus Jeff Newman, B.S. Astronomy, Physics, and Math (and Latin!) '94, has received an Early Career Award from the Department of Energy. This is a five-year, $750,000 grant under a newly established federal program intended to support young scientists. Dr. Newman received his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from UC-Berkeley in 2000 and is now a faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh (Department of Physics and Astronomy).

  • Dr. Drake Deming, an adjunct professor at UM, has won the 2010 AAS Beatrice Tinsley Prize. Drake is a Senior Scientist in the Planetary Systems Lab at Goddard and deputy PI for the EPOXI space mission, leading the EPOCh part of the mission. The Tinsley Prize is awarded every two years to recognize "an outstanding research contribution to astronomy or astrophysics, of an exceptionally creative or innovative character."

  • Dr. Lori Feaga has been selected to receive a prestigious NASA Early Career Fellowship for her proposal to study volatiles from Comet Tempel 1 using the Deep Impact data. The goal of the Early Career Fellowship program is to facilitate integration of new planetary scientists into advanced research roles. Only 10 scientists were selected for this year's award.

  • Prof. Stacy McGaugh's ongoing work on the kinematics of galaxies and their baryonic content was selected for discussion at a press conference at the recent AAS meeting in Washington, D.C. His team, including former undergraduate Matthew Zagursky, found that galaxies are made up of larger fractions of dark matter than the rest of the Universe is. They also determined that the dark matter fractions are much larger for small galaxies than for large ones.

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