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School of Physics & Astronomy

Physics major spends week with Brazilian research group

Physics sophomore Luke Shadler accompanied Dr. Andy Robinson to spend a week visiting the Astrophysics research group at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Porto Alegre, Brazil, during April. Dr. Robinson and recent AST Ph.D. graduate Dr. Davide Lena are working with Dr. Thaisa Storchi-Bergmann and her group at UFRGS on a joint project to map gas flows around supermassive black holes in active galactic nuclei, using observations made with the Gemini North and South Telescopes on Mauna Kea Hawaii, and Cerro Pachon, Chile, respectively.

Luke began been working with Dr. Robinson during his freshman year, using a sophisticated computer program to model the structure and velocity field of the gas flows for comparison with the observations. His work expertise with this program so impressed Dr. Storchi-Bergmann that he was personally invited to UFRGS, to provide hands-on training for her graduate students in the use of this software.


RIT Physics Sophomore Luke Shadler about to begin a presentation during a visit to the Astrophysics Research group at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.


AST students present at Torus 2015 Workshop

Dr. Andy Robinson, recent AST graduate Dr. Davide Lena and current AST Ph.D. student Triana Almeyda presented results from several research projects at the Torus 2015 Workshop, hosted by the University of Southhampton in Winchester, UK, September 14 - 17.

The purpose of the workshop was to discuss recent progress in understanding the so-called "dusty molecular torus", that surrounds the central supermassive back holes in active galactic nuclei. Triana was selected to give an oral presentation on her work developing computer simulations of the time-dependent response of the infrared dust emission from the torus to variations in the AGN luminosity.

Dr. Robinson's team also presented posters based on three recent publications, led by Dr. Lena , AST Ph.D. student Billy Vazquez and former post-doc Dr. Dinalva Sales.


AST Ph.D. student Triana Almeyda presents her talk "Modeling the Reverberation Response of the+DustyTorus Emission of NGC6418" at "Torus 2015: The unification scheme after 30 years", Winchester, UK, 14-17 September 2015.

RIT on TV: RIT Alumna encourages women in STEM - on WNYT

Dr. Valerie Rapson studied Astrophysics at RIT and now leads outreach efforts at the Dudley Observatory in Schenectady, NY. Her goal is to provide hands-on experience for students - especially female and minority students - in the hope that more will be engaged and pursue education and careers in the sciences.

General Relativity turns 100; Astrophysicist Manuela Campanelli puts Einstein in context in AAAS talkmanuelacampanelli.png

Rochester Institute of Technology professor Manuela Campanelli helped celebrate the 100th anniversary of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, Calif.

The association, the largest general scientific society in the world and publisher of the journal Science, invited Campanelli to the symposium "General Relativity at 100: Looking Forward and Looking Back."

An understanding of gravity would open a new window on the universe with gravitational wave astronomy and could help explain the Big Bang, she said. "We do science because we want to answer some fundamental questions," Campanelli said. "In my case, it's about gravitation and how it works in the universe. But there is a whole series of other potential applications that come up when you advance knowledge in one direction, and sometimes it's unexpected." Read more >>

Lifting the veil on a dark galaxy

Findings validate earlier prediction of galaxy’s location


A cluster of young, pulsating stars discovered at the far side of the Milky Way may mark the location of a previously unseen dark-matter dominated dwarf galaxy hidden behind clouds of dust.

A team, led by Sukanya Chakrabarti from Rochester Institute of Technology, analyzed near-infrared data collected by the European Southern Observatory's survey VISTA to find four young stars approximately 300,000 light years away. These young stars are Cepheid variables–"standard candles" that astronomers use to measure distances. According to Chakrabarti, these are the most distant Cepheid variables found close to the plane of the Milky Way. The paper announcing the discovery appears in Astrophysical Journal Letters and is available online. Read more >>


Hao Shi ’13 wins national recognition for undergraduate quantum optics researchHao-Shi

Hao Shi, a 2013 graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology's physics program, was chosen as a recipient of the American Physical Society's LeRoy Apker Award. The premier national award recognizes outstanding achievement in physics by an undergraduate student in the United States.

The American Physical Society presents the annual award worth $5,000 to two students: one from a Ph.D.-granting institution and another from a non-Ph.D. granting institution. The society will recognize Shi's undergraduate research from RIT's non-Ph.D. granting program, and the work of Guy Geyer Marcus, the recipient from Wesleyan University's Ph.D. granting program, during a ceremony at the society meeting in Madison, Wis., slated for June 2­­–6, 2014. As Shi's nominating department, RIT's School of Physics and Astronomy will also receive a certificate and $5,000 to support undergraduate research. Read more>>


Nobel Laureate to give 2014 commencement address


William Daniel Phillips, an award-winning researcher with the National Institute of Standards and Technology who shared the 1997 Nobel Prize
in physics, will be the keynote speaker for Rochester Institute of Technology's 129th commencement celebration.

Phillips will speak at the Academic Convocation, set for 10 a.m. May 23 in the Gordon Field House and Activities Center.

RIT President Bill Destler said the university is honored to have a scientist of Phillips' caliber addressing its graduates.

"Beyond Dr. Phillips' most impressive list of achievements, I believe our graduates will find his record of innovation and leadership in scientific research to be an inspiration," Destler said. "We look forward to hosting him on campus for our commencement celebration."  Read more>>


Dynamics and Evolution of Galactic Nuclei


David Merritt's book, "Dynamics and Evolution of Galactic Nuclei", has been published by Princeton University Press. The 544 page book is the latest volume in the "Princeton Series in Astrophysics" .

David Merritt will be in residence at the Institute Henri Poincare in Paris for two months starting September, where he will be a lecturer at a graduate school in astrophysical dynamics. .




MINERvA: Bringing Neutrinos into Sharp Focus

Neutrinos are the least familiar fundamental particles in the Standard Model, and are currently the focus of many high-energy physics experiments. Most of these experiments are based at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (FNAL) in the United States, and at the CERN facility in Europe. MINERvA is a collaboration of over 100 individuals at 27 universities and government institutions across the world

Dr. McGowan has been a member of the collaboration since earning his doctorate in 2007.

Read more>


Early observations of a young supernova at RIT Observatory

Early in the evening of Friday, July 26, messages started to arrive in mailboxes throughout the astronomical community: a new object had appeared near the galaxy M74. Could it be a supernova -- the titanic explosion of a massive star? Possibly ... but more observations were required to confirm the event.

Michael Richmond (School of Physics and Astronomy) was working at the RIT Observatory that evening. He was taking a long series of measurements of a close binary star system in our own Milky Way, as part of a worldwide collaborative effort to study its properties. But when the E-mail arrived, he realized that this was an unusual opportunity for the small telescope at RIT's Observatory: it might be among the first to see if this reported object really was present. more>>>


Advanced Photon Source (APS) User Organization

RIT School of Physics and Astronomy professor Michael Pierce was recently nominated, and subsequently elected by the x-ray science community, to the steering committee for the Advanced Photon Source (APS) User Organization. This committee advises the APS Laboratory Director on several matters related to the science, operation, and improvement of the most intense source of x-rays in North America. The steering committee represents an important link between the community of scientists that use the facility and the team of scientists that maintain and operate the facility. This is a very exciting period of time for the organization as the facility will undergo an upgrade over the next few years to maintain its position as a world leader of x-ray based science.


From the APS website: "The APS is one of the most technologically complex machines in the world. This premier national research facility provides the brightest x-ray beams in the Western Hemisphere to more than 5,000 (and growing) scientists from around the United States and the world. These scientists come to the APS from universities, industry, medical schools, and other research institutions. Our users bring with them ideas for new discoveries in nearly every scientific discipline, from materials science to biology, chemistry, environmental and planetary science, and fundamental physics. They bring their ideas to the APS because our x-ray beams let them collect data in unprecedented detail and in amazingly short time frames. The knowledge our users gain here promises to have real and positive impact on our technologies, our health, our economy, and our fundamental understanding of the materials that make up our world."

Why Astronomy Images Matter

How can scientists present complex images to the public without diminishing their scientific content? This dilemma, routinely faced by researchers from a wide range of fields, is being tackled by education and public outreach experts at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, as described in the article "Spellbinding Cosmic Beauty: Why Astronomy Images Matter." The article makes its point via astronomical X-ray images obtained with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory by RIT's Joel Kastner and his international team. (An article on the same RIT-led Chandra imaging program, written for the international community of astronomers by Kastner and inaugural RIT AST PhD recipient Rudy Montez, serves as the cover story for the Spring 2013 Chandra X-ray Observatory newsletter.)


Leadership Meeting of the Optical Society of America


left to right is Zhiping Zhou (editor-in-chief of "Photonics Research") , Shin-Tson Wu( board-of-editors chair), Steven Chu (then Secretary of Energy for President Obama) and Grover Swartzlander (editor-in-chief of J. Opt. Soc. Am. B).

Rochester Institute of Technology Associate Professor of Imaging Science and Physics, Grover Swartzlander recently attended the Leadership Meeting of the Optical Society of America in Washington DC (6-8 Feb), where he had the opportunity to meet with other editors and discuss topics related to science publishing.



Latest News

Ben Zwickl, assistant professor of physics, co-presented "Implementing the AAPT Recommendations for the Undergraduate Physics Lab" with colleague Joe Kozminski of Lewis University at Beyond First Year Lab Conference in College Park, Md., on July 22-24.

Sukanya Chakrabarti was awarded $325,053 from the National Science Foundation to study "The Dynamical Echoes Of Dark Matter Sub-Structure: In Simulations & In Spirals Out To z ~ 0.1". read more

Astronomy on Tap in Rochester, NY held on Friday, May 15 was hosted by visiting AST faculty Jennifer Connelly. Talks were given by AST faculty Michael Richmond, AST graduate student Billy Vazquez and Jennifer Connelly.

RIT PhD student Valerie Rapson and RIT Faculty Joel Kastner’s research was highlighted on the front page of the Gemini Observatory’s website and in the article titled Star Pair’s Dusty Disk Shines Light on Planet Formationon April 2, 2015.  

The March 2015 edition of the LIGO magazine is available online.

David Merritt will deliver an invited talk on the astrophysics of gravitational-wave sources at "Gravitational Wave Physics and Astronomy", Osaka, Japan, June 2015.

RIT AST Graduate Students, AST Faculty & Alumni presented at the American Astronomical Society's January 2015 Conference

Dr. Moumita Das' research advisee and Physics Senior Dan Kolbman attended the National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard last week of January and his poster was selected as runner up in the Physical Sciences category.

Dr. Sukanya Chakrabarti published a paper announcing the discovery of clustered Cepheid variables that mark the location of a dwarf galaxy she had predicted several years ago.

The discovery was widely covered by the media: by NBC News, Scientific American , Sky and Telescope , BBC, and many other media outlets. This discovery paves the way towards surveying the structure of our galaxy at low latitudes, and can critically shape our understanding of near-field cosmology.

A team, led by RIT faculty Sukanya Chakrabarti from Rochester Institute of Technology, analyzed near-infrared data collected by the European Southern Observatory's survey VISTA to find four young stars approximately 300,000 light years away. More>>>

Prof. Mishkat Bhattacharya gave a talk at the Focus Session on Cold Molecules at the American Physical Society Meeting of the Division of Atomic Molecular and Optical physics in Madison, Wisconsin. His talk covered research published with RIT undergraduates Zach Howard, Nate Cawley and Stefano Marin.

RIT alum Hao Shi gave an invited talk at the American Physical Society meeting titled "Spinning Photons and Twisted Oscillators" in the Focus Session on New Trends in Quantum Optics. The meeting was held June 2-6 in Madison, Wisconsin. Hao's talk was based on his work at RIT, supervised by Prof. Mishkat Bhattacharya

David Merritt co-authored a theoretical study arguing that the observed distribution of dwarf galaxies around the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies is strongly inconsistent with the standard model of galaxy formation and cosmology. This result was widely reported, by journals like New Scientist, newspapers like Forbes, and web sites like Read more

ESA featured results from a paper on which AST PhD graduate Rudy Montez and RIT faculty Joel Kastner are coauthors -- reporting the Herschel Space Telescope discovery of the molecule OH+ in nebulae around certain dying stars -- Read more

Dr. Chris O'Dea gave a talk titled "Black Holes and Galaxy Evolution"
at the Spring Meeting for the MIT Club of Rochester at the Shadow Lake Golf Club on May 10th. Dr. O'Dea discussed our current understanding of very massive black holes (millions to billions times the mass of the sun) and their influence on galaxy formation and evolution. The most massive black holes release energy in the form of powerful outflows which are thought to limit the sizes of the most massive galaxies by suppressing star formation. These black holes likely play a role in heating the gas inside clusters of galaxies (the largest gravitational bound systems in the universe).

Grant Tremblay, an RIT graduate, has been selected for one of the 12 Einstein Fellowships awarded in 2014. Grant completed his PhD in 2011, on "Feedback-Regulated Star Formation in Cool Core Clusters of Galaxies". His advisors were Chris O'Dea and Stefi Baum. Since then he has been pursuing his research and continuing his collaborations with Chris and Stefi, at the headquarters of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Garching, Germany, where he holds an ESO Fellowship. He will take his Fellowship (which provides funding for 3 years) at Yale University working on the project "Star Formation amid Kinetic Black Hole Feedback - The unified power of Chandra and ALMA"

Stefano Marin, a physics freshman major at RIT, was an author on the article "Coherent cancellation of geometric phase for the OH molecule in external fields", recently published in the Physical Review A, volume 89, page 052503 (2014). This work was carried out by Stefano in collaboration with Dr. Mishkat Bhattacharya.

RIT graduate students Kevin Cooke & Valerie Rapson were recognized with Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Awards for their outstanding research posters at the 223rd American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, D.C., in January.               Read More >>

Sukanya Chakrabarti's recent work on the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy was featured in the Indian Diaspora magazine

Moumita Das' research advisee Julian Butcher was selected for a travel award from APS Division of Biological Physics for his upcoming March Meeting talk. apslogo

Moumita Das gave the Physics Department colloquium at Lehigh University January 23, 2014.
"Touchy Feely Physics of Living Cells: Mechanics and Force Transmission."

Congratulations to Kevin Cooke on winning a graduate medal in the AAS Chambliss Poster Competition and to Valerie Rapson on her honorable mention!! AASlogo

David Merritt was selected as the 2014 "Garfinkel Lecturer" by Yale University. This prestigious lectureship is funded by an endowment from dynamical astronomer Boris Garfinkel. Prof. Merritt will give a series of seminars at Yale on the topic of "Relativistic Dynamics of Galactic Nuclei".

SoPA-affiliated faculty, staff and students presented at the 223rd American Astronomical Society Meeting: January 5-9, 2014.

Manuela Campanelli is an invited plenary speaker at the 27th Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics which will be held in Dallas December 8 - 13, 2013. This will be a special and historically meaningful Jubilee meeting that celebrates the past 50 years of Texas Symposia and relativistic astrophysics and to kick off the next 50 years of remarkable discoveries. The plenary talks also include two Nobel prize winners among celebrated well-know scientists in the fields of relativistic astrophysics, cosmology, black hole astrophysics and general relativity, hundreds of contributed talks in parallel sessions, as well as poster sessions.

AST PhD student Valerie Rapson has been invited to join the American Astronomical Society Astronomy Ambassadors program. In addition, Valerie was also elected President of the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science

Christopher O'Dea gave an invited talk "There and Back Again: Duty Cycles of Active Galactic Nuclei" at a conference in Groningen, the Netherlands.

Presentations at Astronomical Society of New York: Fall 2013 Meeting, Union College, Schenectady NY included:
- Christopher O'Dea: "The Labors of Hercules A: Trying to Make Sense of a Complicated Radio Galaxy"
- Kristina M. Punzi: "The First Unbiased Radio Emission Line Survey of Proplanetary Disk Orbiting LkCa 15"
- Benjamin Sargent: "Water, Formaldehyde, and Formic Acid Vapors in Spitzer-IRS Spectra of Protoplanetary Disks"
- Valerie Rapson: "How Cool is That? An IRTF/SPEX Spectroscopic Study of the Close Binary T Tauri System V4046 Sgr Poster Sessions:
- Joel Kastner: "Molecular Line Surveys of Nearby T. Tauri Stars: Late-Time Chemistry of Protoplanetary Disks"
- David Principle: "Investigations of Magnetic Activity Across YSO Classes: Multiwavelength Observations of the Star-forming Regions L1630 and L1622"
- Kayla Emerson: "Chandra X-Ray Imaging Spectroscopy of the Complex Planetary Nebula NGC 7009"

"Mechanical memory for photons carrying orbital angular momentum", a recent article in the Journal of Physics B by physics alum (2013) Hao Shi and Dr. Mishkat Bhattacharya has been highlighted by the journal on its website which receives approximately 145,000 accesses per month. The work has also been described in an additional piece designed for a wider audience under the LabTalk section of the journal

Rochester Institute of Technology RIT graduate wins prestigious undergraduate award from the American Physical Society
Hao Shi '13 wins national recognition for undergraduate quantum optics research

Hao Shi, a Physics major who recently graduated from the RIT School of Physics and Astronomy has been selected as a Finalist for the LeRoy Apker Award of the American Physical Society which recognizes outstanding achievements in physics by undergraduate students. The finals will be held on September 19 in Washington DC. Hao's selection was based on four research articles published in peer-reviewed journals in collaboration with his advisor Dr. Mishkat Bhattacharya of SOPA. Hao will be joining Cornell for graduate study in Physics this coming Fall.

Undergraduate physics major Hao Shi recently published three peer-reviewed articles with his research advisor Mishkat Bhattacharya.
Hao was first author on publications appearing in the Journal of Modern Optics and in Physical Review A

Robert Teese, Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy, is the recipient of the 2012-13 Provost's Innovative Teaching with Technology Award.

Sukanya Chakrabarti talked about Jupiter's Big Red Spot on The Weather Channel's "Deadliest Space Weather" series. View Video

Mike Kotlarchyk, Head of the School of Physics & Astronomy, wrote an article providing an overview of Optics at RIT for the Rochester Section of the Optical Society of America.

David Merritt received a grant of $448,929 from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to support his research into dynamics of galactic nuclei.