RIT postdoctoral researcher Erika Holmbeck named one of NASA’s 2021 Hubble Fellows

RIT Postdoctoral Associate Erika Holmbeck has been selected as one of 24 new fellows for the prestigious NASA Hubble Fellowship Program.

An RIT postdoctoral researcher has been selected as one of 24 new fellows for the prestigious NASA Hubble Fellowship Program. Erika Holmbeck, who has been working as a postdoctoral associate with Associate Professor Richard O’Shaughnessy in the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation since fall 2020, will begin as a Hubble Fellow in fall 2021.

Holmbeck’s research focuses on how the universe makes the heaviest elements. Compact binary neutron star mergers, such as those discovered by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration, are believed to produce some of these heavy elements. At RIT, O’Shaughnessy’s group and colleagues at Los Alamos National Lab and the University of Tennessee have been collaborating on ways to consolidate information about these mergers obtained by many different techniques: “multimessenger” astronomy. Holmbeck’s research was on a specific messenger— the material these mergers pass on to the next generation of stars. The Hubble Fellowship will take her to the Carnegie Institution for Science, where she will observe stars that show these traces of heavy elements.

“I’ll be targeting certain types of stars that could be descendants of these merger events, specifically trying to measure those extremely heavy elements so we have more data to work with,” said Holmbeck. She called her time at RIT invaluable and said it helped her approach the central question behind her research from a new perspective. “It’s nice to be with people who are studying a similar question from a different point of view.”

O’Shaughnessy noted that “Observations and discovery drive scientific progress. Erika’s work will be critical to pin down an unambiguous messenger from the ancient universe about these exciting events.”

The NHFP program enables outstanding postdoctoral scientists to pursue independent research in any area of NASA Astrophysics, using theory, observation, experimentation, or instrument development. More than 400 applicants vied for the fellowships and each fellowship provides the awardee up to three years of support. For more information, visit the Hubble website.

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