News from the Department (2016)

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December 2016

  • Graduate student Ashlee Wilkins was interviewed in a heart warming CMNS release Building Bridges that was featured in the Fall 2016 issue of Odyssey Magazine. The article highlighted the Graduate Resources Advancing Diversity with Maryland Astronomy and Physics (GRAD-MAP) program and other diversity efforts by Ashlee and the UMD astronomy department.

  • A new study led by Professor Douglas Hamilton suggests that Sputnik Planitia, also known as the "icy heart" on Pluto, formed early in Pluto's history and that its attributes are consequences of evolutionary processes. Dr. Hamilton's paper was published in Nature and was chosen by Astrobiology Magazine as their #1 story of 2016! Find the full CMNS release here.

November 2016

  • Professors Dennis Bodewits and Mike A'Hearn co-authored a paper that was featured on the AAS website. The study used images of comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko to study the chemical composition of its nucleus and how it may have changed over time.

  • Emily Garhart was selected to receive the 2016 USRA Thomas R. McGetchin Memorial Scholarship Award. She was selected from among 59 eligible applicants for one of the 5 USRA scholarship awards this year. A big congrats to Emily!

  • Professor Douglas Hamilton co-authored a paper, "Tidal Evolution of the Moon from a High-Obliquity, High-Angular-Momentum Earth," in the Advance Online edition of Nature. Using numerical models of the moon's explosive formation, Hamilton and his co-authors found that the impact that formed the moon could have caused calamitous changes to Earth's rotation and the tilt of its spin axis. Read the CMNS release New Model Explains the Moon's Weird Orbit.

October 2016

  • A NASA press release NASA Missions Harvest a Passel of 'Pumpkin' Stars featured grad student Krista Smith's work for the Kepler-Swift Active Galaxies and Stars Survey (KSwAGS). Her team combined observations from the Kepler and Swift space missions (Krista led the Swift analysis), and they conducted followup observations of unusual stars with high X-ray output. They discovered that these stars spin so quickly that they are distorted into 'pumpkin' shapes! These stars are believed to be the result of closely-orbiting binary stars which have merged together.

  • Professor Suvi Gezari has won the CMNS Board of Visitors Junior Faculty Award. Suvi is a world leader in time-domain astronomy, a field identified by the NRC Decadal Panel as a "key frontier discovery area." She is internationally recognized for her work on tidal disruption events (TDEs), in which a star is tidally torn apart by a supermassive black hole. She pioneered the technique of using the variations in light emitted to estimate the key black hole parameters, mass and spin. Congratulations!

  • Drs. Dan Gershman and Levon Avanov are co-authors of a new Physical Review Letters article about observations from the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft. The team studied MMS' crossing of a bow shock in Earth's magnetosphere and provided a detailed picture of the shock's rippled structure. The article, "Rippled quasiperpendicular shock observed by the Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft" by A. Johlander et al., was published on Oct. 12, 2016.

  • Dr. Matthew Knight's co-authored paper "Gone in a Blaze of Glory: The Demise of Comet C/2015 D1 (SOHO)" was selected by AAS Journals for inclusion in their list of recent articles that "highlight significant developments in planetary science research". For the full list of papers, click here.

September 2016

  • Dist. Univ. Prof. Emeritus Mike A'Hearn and Assistant Research Scientist Dennis Bodewits were both contributors in a new Rosetta study of outburst activity that was recorded on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

  • In a recent issue of "Between the Columns", the newsletter ran a profile on Asst. Research Scientist Tim Livengood as well as a piece on Distinguished University Professor Emeritus Mike A'Hearn.

  • Grad student Pradip Gatkine has won the "best student presentation" award at the SPIE conference in Edinburgh, Scotland this summer for his poster on his work on array waveguide gratings. 262 posters were presented at this conference and most of them were by students. Congrats!

  • Dr. Ludmilla Kolokolova, a Research Scientist in our department's Small Bodies Group, has published a commentary in the prestigious journal Nature. Her write-up provides the context for an article by Bentley et al. on new results from the Rosetta space mission. Rosetta visited comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and analyzed samples of its cometary dust to learn about how comets and planets are formed.

August 2016

  • The Joint Space-Science Institute (JSI), a partnership between the University of Maryland College Park and the NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center, is pleased to host a 3 day conference on "Astrophysics in the Era of Gravitational Wave and Multimessenger Observations." This will take place November 9-11th in Annapolis, Maryland. For more information, see the JSI webpage.

  • Senior Lecturer Dr. Alan Peel has been selected for the 2016 Undergraduate Studies Faculty Fellows. During the 2016-17 academic year, the Undergraduate Studies Faculty Fellows will participate in a faculty learning community that will investigate Academic Integrity and Student Learning. Alan is also the Director of the College Park Scholars program "Science, Discovery, and the Universe". Congratulations!

  • Congratulations to our many professional-track faculty who received promotions this year, including Dr. Melissa Hayes-Gehrke (Principal Lecturer), Dr. Alan Peel (Senior Lecturer), Dr. Lan Jian (Associate Research Scientist), and Dr. Lun-Chang Tan (Senior Faculty Specialist). The following research faculty have also had their 'visiting' titles removed and are now regular faculty: Research Scientist Tom Statler; Associate Research Scientist Matthew Knight; Assistant Research Scientists Valeria Cottini, Dan Gershman, Ravi Kopparapu, Tim McConnochie, Jason McLain, and Robert Michell; and Assistant Research Engineers Meredith Elrod and Omid Noroozian. Kudos to all of you!

July 2016

  • A NASA press release for work led by Assistant Research Scientist Eleanora Troja was featured in a Chandra press release GRB 140903A: Chandra Finds Evidence for Violent Stellar Merger. Other department members on the team were Dr. S. Bradley Cenko, Dr. Neil Gehrels, Dr. Alexander Kutyrev, Professor Sylvain Veilleux, and grad students John Capone and Vicki Toy.

June 2016

  • Congratulations to Post-Doctoral Associate Erin Kara and Professor Chris Reynolds, whose paper, "Relativistic Reverberation in the Accretion Flow of a Tidal Disruption Event," was published in Nature. Their team is the first to document X-rays bouncing around deep within the walls of a once-dormant black hole's newly formed accretion disk. For details, see the UMD Right Now news release.

  • Marc Pound has won the campus Professional Track Faculty Prize for his service to the university! Marc has done more than anyone else on campus "to improve the professional lives of colleagues formerly known as Non-Tenure Track Faculty", and so it is fitting that Marc is the inaugural winner of this prize, which comes with $1K.

  • Congratulations to Gabrielle Betancourt-Martinez for her first place prize in the UMD Three-Minute Thesis Competition for 2016. She wrote her dissertation, "Getting Our Science Right: The Importance of Laboratory Astrophysics in Understanding Astronomical Observations," under the direction of Professor Christopher Reynolds.

  • Assistant Research Scientist Xi Shao has received an award from NOAA's Center for Satellite Applications and Research (STAR) for innovative research and publication of the journal paper "Spectral dependent degradation of the solar diffuser on Suomi-NPP VIIRS due to surface roughness-induced Rayleigh scattering". Congratulations!

  • Congratulations to CMNS graduate students J. Drew Hogg, Dana Louie and Zeeve Rogoszinski who were awarded NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowships. For the CMNS news story, click here.

May 2016

  • Michael Kelley and Matthew Knight's paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters (previously mentioned in an earlier news story) was picked up by "New Scientist" Identity-crisis comet may really be closest asteroid to the sun.

  • Dr. Li-Jen Chen and Dr. Shan Wang are co-authors on a new study out in Science that describes the first significant results from NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission. The results provide an unprecedented look at the interaction between the magnetic fields of Earth and the sun, including the first direct and detailed observation of a phenomenon known as magnetic reconnection. Reconnection occurs when two opposing magnetic field lines break and reconnect with each other, releasing massive amounts of energy. For details, see the UMD Right Now news release or CMNS release Space Mission First to Observe Key Interaction Between Magnetic Fields of Earth and Sun.

  • Dr. Francesco Tombesi and Dr. Hiroya Yamaguchi won Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medals, which are awarded for individual efforts that have resulted in a contribution of fundamental importance in their fields. Dr. Dan Gershman won an Early Career Public Achievement Medal, which is awarded to non-NASA employees who make a significant contribution in their field that directly contributes to NASA's mission. All three of them are assistant research scientists.

  • Graduate student Mahmuda Afrin has been awarded with the Jacob K. Goldhaber Travel Grant to attend and present at the upcoming American Astronomical Society meeting this winter.

  • Elizabeth Warner and Peter Teuben are attracting a high-level visit at the observatory for the all-sky camera that had a successful crowd-funding campaign. Peter wrote a proposal to the International Astronomical Union for a small grant to put one of their systems in Haiti. Through that contact, a delegation from Haiti has reached out requesting an update on the all-sky project and a tour of our observatory.

  • Roughly 70,000 visitors visited the UMD campus for Maryland Day on a cool, cloudy day on Apr. 30. The department entertained and informed visitors with a virtual reality tour of the Rosetta space mission as well as our "Fingerprinting the Universe" and "Ask an Astronomer" booths. The AstroTerps student club gave excellent demos on topics such as cratering by asteroids. Thanks so much to all of our volunteers (too many to name here, alas!), especially Elizabeth Warner for her hard work in coordinating the department's participation.

  • The University of Maryland College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS) announced the promotion of 20 tenure-track and professional-track faculty members and the appointment of a College Park Professor. This select group includes our very own Alberto Bolatto. Congratulations!

  • Graduate student Alice Olmstead was one of five finalists recognized at this year's 35th Annual University Awards Program dinner (attended by President Loh, Provost Rankin, and other top administrators) for one of the university's highest graduate student awards, the Graduate Student Distinguished Service Award. She was recognized for her work in moving us towards a more equitable and inclusive environment for our undergraduates and for founding Astronomy Gentleladies Network (AGN).

  • Graduate student Krista Smith has won the Michael J. Pelczar Award for Excellence in Graduate Study, which supplements the stipend with an extra $1,000. It is awarded to a doctoral candidate who has demonstrated excellence beyond his or her course work, and who has served at least one academic year as a teaching assistant with a commendable performance.

  • Graduate student Pradip Gatkine has won the Kulkarni Foundation Summer Research Fellowship, with provides a $5,000 summer stipend to outstanding University of Maryland doctoral students at "mid-career," that is, in the period approximately before, during, or after achievement of candidacy.

  • Graduate student Ashlee Wilkins has won the All-S.T.A.R. Fellowship, which supplements her GA stipend with an extra $10,000. The Graduate All-S.T.A.R. Fellowships are intended to honor graduate students who are both outstanding scholars and outstanding graduate assistants. All-STAR fellows are selected by the colleges, with CMNS having two All-S.T.A.R. fellows.

  • Graduate students Mahmuda Afrin and Mark Avara were the co-winners of this year's university-wide competition in research presentations in the area of physics and astronomy for their oral presentations. Congratulations to you both!

April 2016

  • Research scientists Matthew Knight and Mike Kelley recently had their paper "Comet 322P/SOHO 1: An asteroid with the smallest-perihelion distance?" accepted by the Astrophysical Journal Letters. The research from this paper was based on data from the Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT). The University of Maryland is a full partner in the DCT, which is operated by Lowell Observatory.

  • Graduate student Vicky Toy has won an Ann G. Wylie Dissertation Fellowship for her research work. The Graduate School fellowship is a one-semester award intended to support outstanding doctoral students who are in the final stages of writing their dissertation and whose primary source of support is unrelated to their dissertation. Wylie Fellowships carry a stipend of $10,000 plus candidacy tuition remission and $800 toward the cost of health insurance.

  • Two of our department members have won CMNS awards! Prof. Derek Richardson is this year's winner of the Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching for his innovations in ASTR 120 and 121. This is a particularly great honor because the award winner is selected based on nomination letters submitted by CMNS students. Ms. Mona Susanto is this year's winner of the Dean's Outstanding Employee Award (exempt) for her terrific service and dedication as a business manager. The awards will be presented at the CMNS Academic Festival, scheduled for May 11, 2016. Congratulations, Derek and Mona!

  • Congratulations to undergrad Mark Moretto, who was one of four UMD students to win a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship! Mark has been working with Prof. Mike A'Hearn and Dr. Lori Feaga in the Small Bodies Group on cometary data from the famous Deep Impact mission. For details, see the UMD Right Now news release or CMNS release Four UMD Students Named 2016 Goldwater Scholars.

March 2016

  • Research scientists Ed Shaya, Rob Olling, and other team members identified the first-ever "shock breakout" of a supernova in visible light. The 20-minute breakout occurs when a shockwave originating in the core of a dying star reaches the star's surface. The images were taken by the Kepler Space Telescope, which was designed to hunt for exoplanets, but the team creatively took advantage of the telescope's rapidly repeating observations to find stars in the process of exploding into supernovae. For details, see the UMD Right Now news release.

  • Alum Dheeraj Pasham (Ph.D. '14) is one of 13 people selected for an Einstein Fellowship, one of the most prestigious postdoc fellowship programs in astronomy. Dr. Pasham receives full support for 3 years to work at an institute of his choosing. He will be based at MIT, where he plans to apply and extend his expertise in time series analysis to (1) identify and weigh intermediate-mass black holes, and (2) address the many open questions concerning the tidal disruption of stars by supermassive and intermediate-mass black holes.

February 2016

  • Our very own Cole Miller has published a Nature News and Views article Dawn of a new astronomy summarizing the LIGO gravitational wave detection. See how else UMD Astronomy ties into this incredible discovery from our story earlier this month.

  • Graduate student Amy Steele was interviewed for the blog Astronomy in color. In the interview she discusses earning an honorable mention for the 2016 Chambliss Prize and her experiences in the astronomy world. For the full interview and article, click here.

  • Senior Research Scientist Mark Wolfire has won the college Distinguished Research Scientist Award. The award recognizes research excellence evidenced by the discovery of new knowledge. He has been invited to speak March 8 on "Stars, Cars, and PDRs." Congratulations Mark!

  • Research scientists Matthew Knight, Mike Kelley, and Silvia Protopapa used the Discovery Channel Telescope to observe a comet that will make a close approach to Earth next month. In earlier observations, this comet was believed to have been an asteroid. This discovery was covered and explained on by "Bad Astronomer," Phil Plait. Michael Kelley also summarized this finding on his own website.

  • Several members of Maryland's Joint Space-Science Institute and Astronomy Department were involved in the Advanced LIGO discovery of gravitational waves from a coalescing double black hole binary. These include Alessandra Buonanno, Neil Gehrels, Peter Shawhan, Leo Singer, and Cregg Yancey. In addition, astronomy professor Cole Miller was the chair of the LIGO Program Advisory Committee for three years. Miller and Astronomy professor Doug Hamilton and their students have published multiple papers exploring different scenarios for the production of merging compact binaries. This discovery is an epochal event that signals the birth of gravitational-wave astronomy.

  • Dr. Tracy Huard co-authored paper highlighted on AAS Nova. The paper discusses strategies to follow up gravitational wave events with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to identify kilonovae, the electromagnetic sources resulting from compact binary mergers. While JWST will not launch until 2018, the highlighting of this collaborative work with Dr. Imre Bartos and Dr. Szabolcs Marka of Columbia University is timely, given LIGO's announcement of the first detection of gravitational waves.

  • Faculty specialist Alice Allen was interviewed for an article in Nature. Alice works with Dr. Peter Teuben on the Astrophysics Source Code Library- the world's largest registry for software in astrophysics and astronomy research.

  • The Haiti All-Sky Camera (HASC) project is being led by our own Dr. Peter Teuben with contributions from observatory director Elizabeth Warner, grad student Ashlee Wilkins, and the rest of the GRAD-MAP team!

January 2016

  • Four of our scientists who are based at Goddard have received awards! Elizabeth Ferrara received a 2015 Peer Award. Jerry Bonnell receives a Klumpke-Roberts Award. Brigette Hesman and Richard Achterberg both received Goddard Space Flight Center Honor Awards. Congratulations to everyone.

  • Congratulations to Amy Steele, who received a Chambliss Honorable Mention Certificate for exemplary research based on her AAS poster and presentation of the poster to the judges at the recent Florida AAS meeting. Her poster was titled: "Millimeter Resolved Observations of the HD 181327 Debris Disk"

  • The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has awarded its prestigious George Van Biesbroeck Prize to Dr. Rick Perley (Ph.D. '77) of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Socorro, New Mexico. The society recognized Perley for his "tireless and unrelenting career-long service to the global astronomical community."

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