Rutgers University Department of Physics and Astronomy

200-01 Handbook for Physics and Astronomy Graduate Students

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Research Programs

Faculty members pursue experimental and theoretical investigations in most of the areas of physics that are currently exciting. Rather than try to discuss all of these subjects too briefly, with too much technical jargon, each researcher has been asked to describe simply some aspect of his or her recent research. This should provide a useful introduction to their work. The student is then prepared to find out more about a particular area by direct conversation with the appropriate faculty member.


The astrophysics group at Rutgers has doubled its size to twelve professors in recent years, achieving parity with other world-class astronomy programs and joining AURA, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. Some research highlights are:

The group is recognized as a global center for Astronomical Dynamics, undertaking forefront theoretical and observational studies of stellar systems, black holes, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies.

Cosmology research includes studies of the early universe, the cosmic microwave background, galaxy formation, and dark matter.

Rutgers astronomers are key team members of NASA's two current great observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Rutgers is a founding partner of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), which will give us guaranteed access to the largest optical telescope in the world. Observations are planned to start at the end of 2004.

The Imaging Fabry Perot instruments designed and built at Rutgers are widely used facilities at the US National Observatories.

The Ultraviolet Detector Lab at Rutgers provides a unique national facility for the development and testing of space image sensors.

Rutgers' proposed Schwarzschild Kinematic Explorer will be a space observatory with unprecedented ability to probe the structure of galaxies, revealing supermassive black holes and extended dark matter halos.

The observers and theorists in the group interact closely, and many recent student theses have included both theoretical and observational projects. Most theoretical research is heavily computational, and dynamics sometimes involves N-body simulations. There are also links to the particle-astrophysics interests of the New High Energy Theory Center. Our observations are carried out in all regions of the spectrum, including X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, and radio wavelengths. Data are obtained using both ground-based telescopes and space observatories. The imaging Fabry-Perot interferometer resides at the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. We have a network of Sun and alpha workstations for the analysis of astronomical observations and for theoretical numerical computations. Data from a wide variety of sources can be processed, enhanced, and viewed using most major astronomy software packages, such as IRAF, STSDAS, DAOPHOT, IDL, and AIPS. There are also opportunities for instrument development for both space- and ground-based telescopes, including for SALT.

Graduate students who intend to carry out thesis work in astrophysics are encouraged to follow the astronomy option, which allows them to replace several of their upper division course requirements with astrophysics courses.

Professor Patrick Cote

My scientific interests include the study of dwarf, spiral and elliptical galaxies, globular star clusters, dark matter, and stellar/galactic dynamics. A recurring theme in my research is the question of how galaxies form, and work is underway on this problem on both the observational and theoretical fronts. Theoretical work includes numerical simulations of the chemical evolution of galaxies in hierarchical cosmologies; observational work consists of photometric and spectroscopic studies of galaxies and star clusters using a wide variety of space- and ground-based facilities, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Keck 10m telescopes, the Canada-France-Hawaii3.6m telescope, and eventually, the 11m South African Large telescope (SALT), which will be partly owned and operated by Rutgers University.

Professor Laura Ferrarese

My main objective is to understand the connection between supermassive black holes and the galaxies in which they reside. In very recent years, we have not only come to believe that supermassive black holes (millions or even a billion time more massive than our Sun) do exist, but also that they reside at the centers of the majority, if not all, galaxies. My approach is mainly observational: I use optical (from the Hubble Space Telescope) and X-ray (from Chandra) observations to study the morphology and dynamics at the very centers of galaxies. I use these observations to derive fundamental properties of the black holes and their galaxies, and ultimately to understand how both form and evolve. I am also deeply involved in a project which aims at measuring the expansion rate of the Universe (the Hubble constant) by calibrating traditional distance indicators (such as "Type Ia Supernovae" and the "Tully-Fisher Relation") using a special class of variable stars, named Cepheids, in nearby galaxies.

Professor John P. Hughes

I study the X-ray properties and Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect of clusters of galaxies in order to measure the expansion factor of the Universe, the so-called Hubble constant. This research also aims at understanding the origin, evolution, and nature of these systems, which are the largest dynamically organized structures known. My research interests also include observational and theoretical studies of supernova remnants as probes of stellar and explosive nucleosynthesis, the nature of the interstellar medium, the physics of supersonic shock waves, and the formation and evolution of instabilities in supernova ejecta. I also am involved in the planning and development of new X-ray satellite missions including AXAF and Astro-E.

Professor Raul Jimenez

The main interest of my research is to understand the process of galaxy formation. The approach is the theoretical modeling of stellar populations and their spectral energy distribution from the optical to the millimeter, including realistic star formation mechanisms and modeling of the initial collapse in a cosmological context. The method is based on creating stellar population models, N-body cosmological simulations and 3-D numerical simulations of the ISM. My research is based on a comparison between theoretical models of galaxy formation and evolution, with the observed properties of galaxies, such as their photometric properties, chemical composition, sub--millimeter and millimeter dust and molecular emission.

Professor Charles Joseph

My research interests include the interstellar medium, studies of supermassive black holes in the cores of galaxies, and technology development for optical/ultraviolet space instrumentation. Currently, I am collecting and analyzing data taken with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, which has just been installed on HST. The data are from a key project which uses long-slit spectra to reveal galaxy stellar rotation and dispersion curves. These data will provide evidence on the frequency of central black holes as well as perhaps their origin. New technology initiatives include the development of ultraviolet detectors made of III-Nitrides, which offer significant performance improvements over existing UV image sensors. We also are proposing to NASA to build, fly, and operate from Rutgers University a telescope in space that is larger than the Hubble Space Telescope. Key projects for this proposed mission will include two large surveys, one studying the evolution of the large structure of galaxies and the other studying the formation histories of the supermassive black holes in the cores of galaxies.

Professor Arthur Kosowsky

I am interested in theoretical cosmology. The cosmic microwave background has been one of my main specialties, and we are currently developing a new microwave background power spectrum code, with several analysis projects in mind. We have recently completed a comprehensive calculation of the signature of primordial magnetic fields on the microwave background, and plan on investigating some other potential signals. Another line of investigation concerns cosmological sources of gravitational radiation, with a focus on predicting sources observable with a space-based laser interferometer. Finally, prompted by numerous difficulties matching current theories with various observations of galactic dynamics, Professor Sellwood and I have been pondering modifications to gravity as an alternative to dark matter; in particular I am currently investigating constraints from gravitational lensing and the microwave background.

Professor Terry Matilsky

Most recently, I have become interested in fundamental theories of gravitation. It appears that all of the standard "dark matter" scenarios are significantly flawed, and recent work in string theory has pointed us toward modification of our current ideas concerning gravitational dynamics. I have examined a new idea that postulates an additional interaction in four spatial dimensions that has the potential to solve the dark matter problem, as well as address some fundamental questions in both cosmology and high-energy physics. The most up-to-date paper concerning this can be found at: gravity by clicking on "gravity".

Professor David Merritt

I am interested in the dynamics of galaxies and larger systems, such as galaxy clusters. Recently I have been studying the stability of elliptical galaxies. It turns out that many otherwise reasonable equilibrium states are dynamically unstable. I hope to show that most, or all, highly flattened configurations are unstable, which would explain why elliptical galaxies are never flatter than 3:1. I have also studied the distribution of dark matter around galaxies and galaxy clusters by developing new techniques for estimating masses from kinematical data.

Professor Carlton Pryor

My research interests are centered on observational and theoretical studies of the structure and evolution of both star clusters and individual galaxies. I am currently surveying the kinematics, mass distributions, and stellar contents of the dense centers of globular star clusters, the oldest clusters in our Galaxy. With the Rutgers Imaging Fabry-Perot Spectrometer in Chile, we have been able to increase the kinematical data in these regions by an order of magnitude, thus providing a much clearer picture of some of the most extreme stellar environments known. I am also studying the spatial distribution of dark matter in the dwarf spheroidal companions of our Galaxy in an attempt to determine what the dark matter is.

Professor Jerry Sellwood

My main interest is in the formation and evolution of galaxies. In particular, I try to understand the dynamics of these large stellar systems and to constrain models of their formation. My work on the dark matter halos of galaxies shows that they have low-density cores which is inconsistent with the predictions of the current Cold Dark Matter model of the universe. Other interests include such questions as: What causes the graceful spiral patterns seen in most disc galaxies? And why do some, but not all, have bars? Although analytical methods can be used to some extent, I find that the most fruitful line of attack on these questions is through large N-body simulations.

Professor Ted Williams

My interests include optical observations of extragalactic objects and instrument development. One current project involves the measurement of the kinematics of both stars and gas in barred spiral galaxies, in order to determine the structure and dynamics of these galaxies. Other active research involves measuring the velocities of stars in the dense cores of globular clusters, detecting and measuring the velocities of planetary nebula surrounding elliptical galaxies, and refining the Tully-Fisher technique for measuring the distances to galaxies.

Professor Harry Zapolsky

I am currently studying the physics of gravitational collapse. My interest is specifically in astrophysical systems (young globular clusters and elliptical galaxies) in which the dynamics of the constituent stars is essentially collisionless, so that the system is not constrained to evolve towards the Boltzmann distribution. Questions of fundamental physical significance include the nature and uniqueness of the ultimate steady state distribution produced by "violent relaxation" during the collapse, and how such systems manage to acquire (approximate) constants of motion.

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Revised November, 2000