Union College to Lead Undergraduate Radio Astronomy Team

Union College Associate Professor Rebecca Koopmann has been awarded funding ($172,495) for a five-year collaborative NSF grant entitled “The Undergraduate ALFALFA Team,” to develop undergraduate research opportunities within the Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA (ALFALFA) survey, a major astronomy observational survey led by astronomers Riccardo Giovanelli and Martha Haynes of Cornell University. The project is mapping a large area of the sky at radio wavelengths appropriate for the detection of neutral hydrogen gas in other galaxies, using the Arecibo radio telescope, the largest telescope in the world, at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Estimated to take 6-7 years to complete, the survey is expected to detect more than 20,000 galaxies out to a distance of 750 million light years. Koopmann has been collaborating with the ALFALFA group since the beginning of the survey two years ago, using the data in her work on the star formation and gas properties of nearby galaxies. She spent her sabbatical year 2006/2007 at Cornell University as a as a guest of the Department of Astronomy and a Visiting Scientist at National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center which runs Arecibo Observatory.

The grant provides undergraduate students and faculty at Union and 13 other primarily undergraduate institutions access to a major, ongoing, scientific research project involving a collaboration of astronomers around the world. Koopmann will work with Colgate University astronomer Thomas Balonek and Georgia Southern University astronomer Sarah Higdon to develop the Undergraduate ALFALFA Team program. Core components include an annual group workshop at Arecibo, observing runs for several groups per year at Arecibo, a summer student research stipend program supporting 7 students per year culminating in a presentation at a national meeting, and funding to provide computers to each team school. The annual workshops will be modeled after two NSF-sponsored ALFALFA workshops held at Union College in the summers of 2005 and 2006. The workshops at Arecibo Observatory will feature observing sessions and lectures and group activities about Arecibo science. The first workshop is scheduled for January 2008.

This grant makes it possible for undergraduates to contribute to the scientific output of the ALFALFA extragalactic HI survey and followup studies while learning valuable lessons about the way that a science collaboration functions through their interactions with their faculty mentors, their peers, and the leaders of the ALFALFA project.

As part of the grant, Koopmann will also collaborate on curriculum and public outreach endeavors with Jose Alonso, Director of the Angel Ramos Foundation Visitor Center at Arecibo Observatory, resulting in publicly-available activities and exercises written in English and Spanish.

Astronomers around the world are collaborating on the ALFALFA project. One of the main goals of the project is to discover low mass, ‘starless’ galaxies, which contain hydrogen gas but have not yet formed stars. The abundance of these “dark” galaxies, their characteristics and location are key clues to understanding how galaxies form and evolve throughout the universe.

Four Union College students have participated to date in ALFALFA research and activities (Nathan Calabro, ’08, Michael Gillin, ’08, Bilal Mahmood, ’08, and Jay Read, ’07’). Mahmood is a co-author of the first data catalog paper released by the ALFALFA collaboration. Calabro is currently working on a senior thesis with advisor Koopmann.

(See the story in the Union College Chronicle for more.)

Luncheon 9/18/07

The Department of Physics and Astronomy will have a potluck luncheon on September 18th. The official foods of September are (according to Google):

  • Wild Rice
  • Biscuits
  • Chicken
  • Honey
  • Mushrooms
  • Potatoes

Dishes for the luncheon should involve these items, and will include “Mormon Funeral Potatoes,” “Wild, Wild Rice,” and “Wild, Wild Chicken.” Lunch will be at noon in the department lounge. All are welcome

Koopmann Presents Two Papers

Associate Professor Rebecca Koopmann presented two papers in June at an International Astronomy Union Conference entitled “Dark Galaxies and Lost Baryons”, held in Cardiff Wales. The papers, entitled “Virgo Early-Type Dwarfs in ALFALFA” and “A 500 kpc HI Tail of the Virgo Pair NGC 4532/DDO 137 Detected by ALFALFA” describe Koopmann’s research on the hydrogen gas contents of nearby galaxies as revealed by the ALFALFA (Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA) survey. Koopmann spent her sabbatical 2006/2007 year at Cornell University as a Visiting Scientist with the  National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC) , which operates the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Prof. Rebecca Surman Receives Stillman Prize

The 2007 Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching was awarded to Professor Rebecca Surman of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. The prize is awarded annually at Convocation to a faculty member nominated by students, and selected by a committee of faculty and students.

Professor Surman does her research in the area of theoretical astrophysics, publishing ten papers and receiving two large grants in the past few years. She has also supervised a large number of student research projects, in addition to teaching a wide range of course in the Department of Physcis and Astronomy. She has served as the faculty advisor for the local chapter of the Society of Physics Students, helping to organize field trips, public outreach activities, and career information sessions.

She was cited particularly for her enthusiasm and approachable demeanor, and her ability to encourage questions in upper-level classes. For more information, see the Union College Chronicle.

Aaron Feingold ‘72 Donates Rare Manuscripts

Cardiologist Aaron Feingold ’72 began amassing rare books and historical artifacts while in medical school. His collection grew to include hundreds of medical texts and records, World War II pharmacy coupons from the European ghettos, archeological artifacts from Egypt and 19th century Italian Hagaddahs, as well as the entire transcript, in English, of the Nuremberg trials.

Among his vast holdings are two items of particular interest to Union: a first edition of Albert Einstein’s “Relativity: The Special and the General Theory” (1920, Henry Holt & Co.) and a rare, annotated typed manuscript by Charles Proteus Steinmetz, which dates to 1921.The Steinmetz manuscript is the second of four lectures the Union faculty member and prominent GE scientist gave at Schenectady’s Unitarian Church on Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Feingold presented these historical treasures to President Stephen C Ainlay at the Terrace Council and Ramée Circle Society Reception at the Nott Memorial during ReUnion weekend. Alumni and friends who gathered included Trustee Stephen Ritterbush ’68; Ellen Fladger, head of Special Collections at Schaffer Library; Librarian Thomas McFadden; and faculty members John Spinelli, chair of Electrical & Computer Engineering, and Chad Orzel, assistant professor of Physics.

From the Union College Chronicle.

Mastroianni ‘07 Presents at DAMOP

Senior Physics major Mike Mastroianni ’07 was one of five students chosen to present in the special Undergraduate Research Session at the 38th meeting of the Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics of the American Physical Society. The DAMOP meeting is an international physics conference attended by nearly 1,000 physicists from around the world, and this year’s meeting was held jointly with the Division of Atomic and Molecular Physics and Photonic Interactions of the Canadian Physical Society, in Calgary, Alberta June 5-9.

Mastroianni’s presentation, “Trapping Single Krypton Atoms for Radioactive Background Measurements,” was based on his senior thesis work with Prof. Chad Orzel of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. He was one of five students chosen to give twenty-minute oral presentations at the meeting, out of dozens of applicants. Mike plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Connecticut after graduation from Union.

Hawes ‘07 Wins Sigma Xi Award

Physics major Nate Hawes ’07 won the annual Sigma Xi research award, given every year to a student for distinguished research as an undergraduate student at Union. Hawes won for his presentation on “Theoretical Modeling of Exploding Black Holes,” a project he did under the supervision of Prof. Jon Marr in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Hawes was one of two Physics majors nominated for the year’s award, along with Mike Mastroianni ’07. The other two nominees were Felicia Spector ’07 and Brianne Phillips ’07.

Sigma Xi is a national honor society recognizing students involved in scientific research. The annual research award is given by the Union College chapter, based on presentations given at the Steinmetz Symposium.

Steinmetz Symposium 2007

The 17th annual Steinmetz Symposium was held on May 4-5 2007, and featured 400 Union students giving 250 scholarly presentations on topics from all academic disciplines. These included 14 students from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, presenting talks in three oral sessions and one poster session.

  • Richard Bonventre ’08, “Fiducial Cuts for the CLAS G3 Data Set”
  • Bob Marvel ’07, “Development of a Relativistic Dynamics Experiment”
  • Stephen Po-Chedley ’08, “Muon Lifetime Measurements and Determination of the Weak Force”
  • Christian Shultz ’08, “Momentum corrections for the CLAS g1c and g3a data sets”
  • Nathaniel Hawes ’07, “Theoretical Modeling of Exploding Black Holes”
  • James Read ’07, “Mapping the Magnetic Field of a Compact Radio Galaxy”
  • Crystal Smith ’08, “The Analysis of Proton- and Neutron-rich Elemental Abundances created in Outflows from Gamma-Ray Burst Accretion Disks”
  • Joshua Smith ’07, “Spectroscopy of the Orion, Eskimo, and Ghost of Jupiter Nebulae at the Union College Observatory”
  • Steve Herron ’09, “Laser Ablation in Art Restoration”
  • Matthew Lockwood ’08, “Anti-Reflective Coating of a Diode Laser System”
  • Mike Mastroianni ’07, “Radioactive Background Measurements using Atom Trap Trace Analysis”
  • Thomas Mazur ’07, “Exploring the Quantum Behavior of Light Experimentally Via Spontaneous Parametric Downconversion”
  • Luther Vucic ’07, “An Introductory Look at Sonoluminescence: Converting Sound into Light”
  • Sam Madden ’07, “SHG Characterization of NLO Dyes included within Laponite Nanoclay Films”

21 Students Present Results at NCUR

Twenty-one Union students presented the results of their undergraduate research projects at the 21st meeting of the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, held at Dominican University in San Rafael, CA from April 12-14, 2007. These included three senior Physics majors, Mike Mastroianni, Tom Mazur, and Matt Roginski.

NCUR is a national conference featuring presentations from some 2,200 undergraduates from more than 250 colleges and universities. The Union contingent was one of the largest groups attending, and presented talks and poster on subjects from physics to chemistry to history to sociology. The students were accompanied to the conference by Prof. Brad Bruno from Mechanical Engineering, and Prof. Chad Orzel from Physics and Astronomy.

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