News from the Department (2022)

Department of Astronomy RSS Feed

May 2022

  • Departmental Prizes were announced at our end of year celebration last week, and I include some abstracted nomination text below. Congratulations and thanks to Shmuel Bialy, Mike Kelley, Adeline Gicquel-Brodtke, Chris Hunt, Eliza Kempton, Erica Harrison, Cole Miller, and Milena Crnogorcevic! Thanks also to the substantial number of others who were nominated, and their nominators -- the committee had a tough time selecting all the prizes.
    • Postdoctoral Scientist Prize for Excellence -- Shmuel Bialy
      Shmuel is a highly engaged member of our departmental community. He organizes the CTC lunch talks, and he has brought in an excellent stream of high-quality speakers this year who have really re-enlivened the CTC group and the seminar series as a whole. His research appears to be important and impactful, although I should let [others more expert weigh in on this.]
    • Distinguished Research Scientist Prize -- Mike Kelley
      Associate Research Scientist Mike Kelley is quiet and unassuming, so it's easy for people who don't work closely with him to not realize what a fantastic scientist he is. His publication record speaks to his productivity: ... However, his more important contributions are harder to see: he has developed and made publicly available a variety of code that has been critical to many of the publications he is a co-author on, even when he's not the lead; he is generous with his time in mentoring younger scientists ... and he is a selfless contributor to the planetary science community such as through creating and editing the monthly Cometary Science Newsletter, taking various leadership roles in LSST planning and development, and contributing to and advocating for Astropy and other open-source initiatives. In summary, Mike is the sort of scientist who everyone wants on their team.
    • Technical Professional Staff Prize for Excellence -- Adeline Gicquel-Brodtke
      I nominate Adeline Gicquel for the Technical Professional Staff Prize for Excellence. Dr. Gicquel has worked tirelessly since her hiring, fulfilling several PDS tasks that required a full-time dedicated effort of a comprehensively developed scientist. She immediately began work to complete the Rosetta mission data dictionaries within the 2020 deadline. This was an enormous push, requiring the ability to interact and obtain critical information to populate the dictionaries from both the ESA and NASA instrument contributors for over 26 separate instruments which she completed well before the deadline and she has since begun the migration of the data to the PDS4 standards. She is now applying her expertise also to the New Horizons dataset migration, a similarly daunting task with a critical set of deadlines that she has helped place the SBN in likelihood of meeting. Adeline has become a critical and valuable member of the SBN, and I happily nominate her for this Prize.
    • Distinguished Faculty Teaching Prize -- Chris Hunt
      Chris isn't well known to many in the Department but he has been an essential member of our teaching faculty for years now. He teaches the Freshmen Connection ASTR100/101 course in the fall semesters and a summer version of ASTR100/101 as well, receiving excellent feedback from students. These are important courses for the department to regularly offer to reach the needs of many different students and Chris has taught these courses with great enthusiasm and commitment. During the pandemic, Chris continued his teaching commitment and transitioned to teaching online on top of his regular teaching duties at PGCC. His transition of the summer 100/101 offering to online went so well and was so popular that we are offering the course online again this summer making it more accessible to a broader population of students. Chris' dedication and commitment to the department deserves to be recognized.
    • Distinguished Faculty Teaching Prize -- Eliza Kempton
      Eliza has been an amazing instructor in our exoplanets course. She is extremely organized and engaging as a lecturer. Her teaching style is very conducive to how I learn - a good mixture of visual and mathematical explanations and always making sure that we are taking away key ideas. ... I went into the class knowing nothing about exoplanets, and I'm coming out of it with a newfound appreciation and excitement for the field.
    • Administrative Professional Staff Prize for Excellence -- Erica Harrison
      Erica is the Finance Manager for the CRESST II cooperative agreement. Erica's knowledge, experience and expertise to train and assist the employees within the CRESST II partner institutions on how to prepare their institutional quarterly reports, answer inquiries, and prepare the yearly budgets has been instrumental to ensure there are no delays in the CRESST II consolidated financial reports she prepares for NASA. Erica is caring, cheerful and always willing to take time to help, answer questions and problem solve. Her dedication to excellence, her work ethic, and her ability to lead the team of business managers from the five partner institutions contributes to the success of the cooperative agreement. Erica is most deserving of this award, and I thank you for your time and consideration of this nomination.
    • Prize for Excellence in Mentoring -- M. Coleman Miller
      Cole has demonstrated to be exceptionally mindful and aware of many aspects of academic life when giving advice. He has made himself available to mentor people who are not formally under his responsibility, which shows generosity and interest for the department wellness and success.
    • Departmental Service Award -- Milena Crnogorcevic
      I can think of no one more deserving of the inaugural department service award than Milena. Since she arrived at Maryland, she has selflessly been a powerhouse for department service. More than any other graduate student in my 30 years at Maryland, Milena has worked to improve the culture in the department and in astronomy...
      Through her time in grad school, she has poured effort into running and improving GRAD-MAP, BANG, and the EDI Committee. She has put countless hours into making our department, as well as the astronomy community as a whole, more inclusive and diverse. ... Whenever Milena dedicates her time to a department organization, she provides an unparalleled expertise and focus on excellence. She also helps the people in the department on an individual level by simply being a kind and pleasant person to be around. Throughout the pandemic, Milena decided to wish each graduate student a happy birthday in our group slack workspace. This was not a grad job (although it is now!); Milena simply thought it would be a nice thing to do that would build community. ... At the same time, she has also performed exemplary PhD research, showing how she is truly a model, well-rounded graduate student. I show my appreciation for all the service she has done for the department by nominating her for the service award.


  • A recent NY Times analysis concludes (among other things), "The occupation in Maryland with the highest location quotient is astronomer. That means astronomers are disproportionately common in Maryland's work force, more so than any other occupation." So congratulations or something.

  • Becca Levy won the 2022 IAU thesis honorable mention for division H. Each Division awards one Prize and one Honorable Mention, so this is a big deal. The IAU PhD Prize recognizes the outstanding scientific achievements of astronomy PhD students around the world. Each of the IAU's nine divisions awards a prize to the candidate it feels has carried out the most remarkable work in the previous year; this year 120 theses were submitted. Congratulations Becca!

  • Congratulations to Milena Crnogorcevic, the PI on a proposal selected in Fermi GI Cycle 15 for Phase 2 (budget stage)! This was one of 34 new programs selected out of 80 proposals submitted. Massimo Ricotti is also a Co-I on the project.

  • group of astronomy studentsWe had a great graduation celebration in the PSC lobby on Thursday to celebrate the graduating seniors and recent PhDs from this year and last. Thanks to all who came, students, family, and faculty alike, and we missed those who couldn't make it. As you can tell from the photo, there was a definite air of celebration. I had a number of comments from parents and students about how much they appreciated their interactions in the Department, Melissa's superb and careful advising, and the brief speeches for each student. Thanks too to Barbara and Lauren for arranging everything and reminding me to tell everyone to have some cake!

  • Some of you may remember the discovery of sound (density) waves in the Perseus galaxy cluster some years ago. Extremely low frequency, of course, but now "sonified" by shifting them up in frequency so you can hear the -- sped up so things that took tens of millions of years are now a clip of seconds in the audible range. There is a NY Times story that points to a NASA video on YouTube for the Perseus cluster. The second half of the article centers on our former JSI Fellow Erin Kara, now a professor at MIT, and the work she does on sonifying her observations of Black Holes.

  • Benedikt Diemer has a new paper out with a functional form describing the density profile of dark halos. Based on his dynamical modeling, this form does a superior job of fitting the transition region where the halo is accreting matter.

  • Our former student Mike McDonald has just received tenure at MIT. Then former faculty members Eve Ostriker and Jim Stone (Princeton and Institute for Advanced Study) were elected to the National Academy of Sciences, recognition that they are among the most influential scientists in the country. Geology's Rich Walker was also elected to the NAS, compounding his election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences noted last week. Nick Scoville (Caltech emeritus) was also elected to the NAS.

    Three investigation teams were selected to join the Geospace Dynamics Constellation (GDC) mission. One, the Comprehensive Auroral Precipitation Experiment (CAPE) team, is led by Dr. Daniel Gershman, who works in the Goddard Heliophysics Science Division. CAPE will measure high-energy charged particles entering the upper atmosphere from Earth's space environment. These particles deposit energy into the upper atmosphere, powering processes that cause large-scale redistributions of mass and energy. CAPE uses electrostatic analyzers, which can precisely measure these charged particles.

    Another of our former research scientists was awarded tenure recently: Dennis Bodewits is now Associate Prof. Bodewits at Auburn University.

  • Maryland Day was a great success -- perfect weather, and large crowds around the Astronomy tables and solar telescopes. The solar telescopes and spectral demonstrations seemed to be the biggest hits, but there was lots of action everywhere. Many thanks to Elizabeth Warner for organizing our part of the event, and to all the volunteers -- undergrads, grad students, faculty, and staff -- who made it such a success!

April 2022

  • Congratulations to Isiah Holt (Astronomy Ph.D. student advised by Cole Miller), who was selected for a NASA Pathways Internship! NASA strategically hires Pathways Interns based on long-term potential and alignment with NASA's future workforce needs.
    In Isiah's research with NASA Goddard's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) mission, he identifies systematic errors and determines whether the researchers' models can get a statistically good fit to the data, even in cases of bias. He'll now be continuing this research as a Pathways intern. Read the CMNS feature.

  • 4 people with one holding framed asteroid citationLast week's (Apr 20) inaugural A'Hearn Lecture was a great success. Alan Stern gave a fantastic talk about the puzzles uncovered with the surprisingly active dwarf planet Pluto as well as a very nice tribute to Mike A'Hearn. Thanks to Lauren Miles, John Cullinan, Barbara Hansborough, Cheri Meadows, Jessica Sunshine, Gerbs Bauer, Tilden Barnes, Elizabeth Warner, Derek Richardson, Doug Hamilton, the entire Small Bodies Group, and all who attended for making it a fitting and memorable event.
    Photo: (L-R) Drs. Alan Stern (speaker), Ralph Pass (alum and donor), Jessica Sunshine, and Andrew Harris (Department chair). As a thank you to Dr Pass for funding the lecture, Dr Sunshine presented him with asteroid 7732, now known as (7732) Ralphpass.

  • Igor Andrioni's paper about ToO (target of opportunity) observations of gravitational waves with Vera Rubin Observatory has now been accepted for publication in ApJS. Congratulations to Igor and his coauthors including Brad Cenko!

  • Alan Stern, "In Honor of Professor Mike A'Hearn: The Exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt" is the Inaugural A'Hearn Lecture presenter. Alan Stern is the Principal Investigator of the New Horizons Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

  • Grad student Guangwei Fu led a paper in ApJ (Letters) titled "Strong H2O and CO Emission Features in the Spectrum of KELT-20b Driven by Stellar UV Irradiation," along with Drake Deming, Jegug Ih, Eliza Kempton, Matej Malik, and Tad Komacek. The paper is featured in an STScI press release about Hot Jupiters.

  • Congratulations too to Antoine Washington, who won a Graduate Student Summer Research Fellowship award. This will help support Antoine's work with Prof. Jessica Sunshine this summer. Way to go Antoine!
  • Congratulations to grad student Katya Leidig. Fourteen current students and recent alumni of the University of Maryland's College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS) received prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships, which recognize outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Katya was one of six current graduate students in CMNS to earn this award. Read the CMNS release.

  • Congratulations to new Dr. Robyn Smith! Robyn successfully defended her PhD Thesis titled "Case Studies in AGN Feedback" on Friday April 1. She's considering a number of options for her next step. Congratulations again, Robyn!

March 2022

  • Prof. Cole Miller and grad student Alexander Dittmann received the Rossi prize as members of the NICER team. This prize is awarded by the High Energy Division of the American Astronomical Society. NICER is an experiment on the International Space Station.
    Then, at the HEAD meeting, Milena Crnogorcevic received the award for the best student poster! The poster presented her work on "Searching for axion-like particles from core-collapse supernovae with Fermi LAT's low-energy technique". The poster is up in front of her office, please take a look!
    And our undergrad Israel Biniam was accepted into the Simons-NSBP Scholars Program for this summer (NSBP is the National Society of Black Physicists). The Flatiron Institute runs the program to provide undergraduate NSBP members with summer research opportunities to give its Scholars a holistic experience and provide invaluable training for becoming a professional physicist.
    Congratulations to all!

  • Papers are one thing, and most definitely a good thing, but Cole Miller has published a book! The book is "Gravitational Waves in Physics and Astrophysics: An Artisan's Guide", with co-author Nicolás Yunes (Physics professor at the University of Illinois). The main publication is electronic, but we may see a hardcopy version or two around the department sometime soon. Way to go, Cole!

  • Elizabeth Warmer and Peter Teuben came up with a project for the annual iSchool Info Challenge hackathon -- of the 56 student teams competing in the week-long challenge with 11 projects available, the one team that tackled their project won the Grand Prize! The dataset was a few nights of FITS files from the all-sky camera at the observatory. As usual, some frames show shadows from the bugs that crawl up to or land on the top of the camera. Annoying for sky monitoring, but great for computer scientists who see it as a bug that's a feature (or something). The team used the OpenCV library and wrote a python package around it to detect bugs. All in github, of course.. Even more impressive, the winning team was a group of 3 senior high school kids from Wheaton HS. Congratulations to the students, Elizabeth, and Peter!

February 2022

  • Congratulations to Keith Arnaud and Brad Cenko for their awards from the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the AAS. Keith received the HEAD Innovation Prize "for developing and maintaining XSPEC, the X-ray spectral fitting package, which has become world standard for analysis of spectra from X-ray and Gamma-ray missions." Brad wins the HEAD Mid-career Prize "for outstanding leadership, discovery, and characterization of high-energy transient phenomena." Send your congratulations to Keith and Brad! Read the CMNS release.

  • Congratulations to Astronomy's Ed Shaya and Alan Peel who have a paper coming out in The Astrophysical Journal. In this study, they traced the movement of 10,000 galaxies and clusters of galaxies over 11.5 billion years-from the galaxies' origins (when the universe was 1.5 billion years old) until today (over 13 billion years old). They also projected future galaxy movements, predicting galaxy expansions and mergers 10 billion years into the future. Read the CMNS release.

January 2022

  • Many congratulations to Richard Mushotzky on being named as the 2022 Henry Norris Russell Lecturer by the American Astronomical Society! The Russell Lecturer is normally chosen annually on the basis of a lifetime of eminence in astronomical research, and that certainly matches Richard's career path. The Russell Lectureship Committee selected him as this year's winner "For a lifetime of innovative X-ray and multiwavelength research, including foundational studies of the properties of active galactic nuclei and the composition and structures of hot gas in clusters of galaxies, as well as the co-invention of the X-ray calorimeter. Read the CMNS release."

  • Congratulations to Isiah Holt, whose NASA Pathways Fellowship is now official. This is a highly competitive fellowship intended to bring promising people into NASA civil servant positions. I think it generally goes to engineering students, and Isiah is the first UMD Astronomy student to win one. Congratulations again!

  • Alex Dittmann recently submitted a paper on circumbinary disks with Geoff Ryan. Much of this material was featured in the CTC seminar he gave last semester. On top of that, another of his submitted papers, this time on TDEs, is also posted.

  • Andrew Harris one of 55 co-authors on Sheona Urquhart's paper from the BEARS collaboration titled "The Bright Extragalactic ALMA Redshift Survey (BEARS) I: redshifts of bright gravitationally-lensed galaxies from the Herschel ATLAS," MNRAS in press. Our former Jansky Fellow Andrew Baker is also on the paper.

  • GRAD-MAP Winter Workshop a great success! Despite having to switch to an online workshop on a very short notice, the Workshop still fulfilled (and exceeded) students' expectations and was a huge success this year! We had ten outstanding and dedicated students (Autumn Bartholomew, Gemechis Edosa, Daniel Gallego, Othello Gomes, Edda Hobuss, Ilham Kabir, Noah Nickens, Paulson Obiniyi Jr., Angel Rodriguez, and Layla Xholi)---from near and far---worked hard on a number of activities including Python bootcamp, writing and presentation workshops, talking about career options and graduate school, various panels, research projects, culminating in outstanding research presentations on Sunday, Jan 9.
    A special thank you to all the GRAD-MAP volunteers who made it possible, too numerous to list, but certainly including GRAD-MAP research mentors Amitava Banerjee, Jake Bringewatt, Rob Dalka, Joe DeMartini, Alex Dittmann, Erica Hammerstein, Tad Komacek, and Elizabeth Warner! A big shout-out to Joe and Alex for also leading the Python bootcamp, and a super shout-out to Charlotte, Andrew, and Milena for running their last (!) Winter Workshop. We are Katya Leidig and Amitava now taking over as GRAD-MAP co-leads.

  • CTC Fellow Shmuel Bialy report a number of papers that have recently appeared or have been accepted:

  • Last week's announcement brought another winner to light: Congratulations to Milena Crnogorcevic for receiving one of the Graduate School's Outstanding Research Assistant Award for AY 2021-22! The Graduate School established this award to recognize and honor the outstanding contributions Graduate Assistants provide to students, faculty, departments, and the University as a whole. The award conveys the honor of being recognized as among the top 2% of campus Graduate Assistants in a given year. More concretely, Milena will receive a credit for mandatory fees for Spring 2022. Congratulations Milena and Alex -- this makes two awards for two nominations.

  • Congratulations to Alex Dittmann for receiving one of the Graduate School's Outstanding Research Assistant Award for AY 2021-22! The Graduate School established this award to recognize and honor the outstanding contributions Graduate Assistants provide to students, faculty, departments, and the University as a whole. The award conveys the honor of being recognized as among the top 2% of campus Graduate Assistants in a given year. More concretely, Alex will receive a credit for mandatory fees for Spring 2022. Way to go Alex!

  • Gehrels Fellow Igor Andreoni led a paper titled "Optimizing Cadences with Realistic Light-curve Filtering for Serendipitous Kilonova Discovery with Vera Rubin Observatory" is in the ApJS special issue on Rubin Observatory. Adjunct Assistant Professor Leo Singer is a coauthor on this paper. A second paper that he prepared for this special issue, "Target of Opportunity Observations of Gravitational Wave Events with Vera C. Rubin Observatory" is currently under peer review (this one written entirely after his move to UMD), here with coauthor Shreya Anand, one of our former undergrads, now a Caltech grad student.

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