Rutgers University Department of Physics and Astronomy

2019-20 Handbook for Physics and Astronomy Graduate Students

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Research Programs


The astrophysics group at Rutgers has grown in stature 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:

  • Rutgers is a founding partner of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), which gives us over 30 nights per year of guaranteed access to the largest optical telescope in the world. Scientific observations began in 2005.
  • Imaging Fabry Perot instruments designed and built at Rutgers are widely used facilities at SALT and at the US National Observatories.
  • Rutgers, jointly with Princeton and Penn, will make measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background with the Atacama Cosmology Telescope, located on a high plateau in the Chilean desert.
  • Cosmology research includes studies of the CMB, galaxy clusters, galaxy formation, dark matter and dark energy.
  • High-redshift galaxies are observed with instruments such as SALT, HST, and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (when it comes on-line in 2010).
  • Gravitational lensing is used to study dark matter halos and supermassive black holes in distant galaxies, and as a natural telescope to probe quasars with unprecedented resolution.
  • The group is recognized as a global center for Astronomical Dynamics, undertaking forefront theoretical and observational studies of stellar systems, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies.
  • Rutgers astronomers are users of NASA's current great observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Infrared Telescope.
  • Studies of supernova remnants cover a broad range of observational topics including neutron stars, pulsars and their wind nebulae, nucleosynthesis, supernova explosion mechanisms, cosmic ray acceleration, and the physics of high Mach number shock waves.
  • The Ultraviolet Detector Lab at Rutgers provides a unique national facility for the development and testing of space image sensors.
  • Rutgers is an Institutional Member of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) which will image the entire Southern sky once every three days starting in 2014.

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 often 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, infrared, (sub)millimeter 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 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 Andrew Baker

I study the evolution of galaxies, both as individuals and as populations, using observations of the nearby and distant universe. I make regular use of data acquired at multiple wavelengths from the ultraviolet through the radio, but I focus on the (sub)millimeter bands where we can observe continuum emission from dust grains and rotational line emission from small molecules. These tracers allow us to study the most optically obscured (and often the most interesting!) regions of galaxies. Some current questions of interest: How do extreme environmental conditions affect the process of star formation? What are the demographics, properties, and evolutionary states of dusty, high-redshift “submillimeter galaxies”? How can we use observations to test the assumptions and predictions of galaxy evolution models that are based on the cold dark matter paradigm for structure formation?

Professor Alyson Brooks

I make use of very high resolution, fully cosmological simulations of galaxies in order to interpret observations of galaxy formation and evolution. I am particularly interested in the role that gas and stars play in altering the dark matter structure within galaxies, and the constraints that observations place on our dark matter model. I am also interested in the processes that drive / regulate star formation as a function of time and galaxy mass, and using the Milky Way and its neighbors as a test of our cosmological model.

Professor Matthew Buckley

I study the particle physics of dark matter, both by constructing theoretical models which link dark matter to the Standard Model particles as well as studying the phenomenology of dark matter experiments. To constrain the possible properties of dark matter, I use results from cosmology and astrophysics as well as particle physics experiments (most prominently, the Large Hadron Collider).

Professor Blakesley Burkhart

My research is focused on understanding the nature of magnetic turbulence at all scales in the universe. This includes the solar wind, the diffuse and star-forming interstellar medium (ISM), and the turbulent nature of nearby galaxies. Towards cosmological scales, my research also investigates the effects of turbulence on the hot ionized gas in galaxy clusters and on the diagnostics of the Lyman alpha forest.

Professor Eric Gawiser

I study cosmological structure formation with the dual purposes of understanding the role that physics plays in creating galaxies, stars, and black holes and of using these astrophysical objects to probe fundamental physics. I serve as PI of the MUSYC collaboration, which is determining the star formation rates, stellar masses, ages, dark matter masses, and low-redshift descendants of high-redshift galaxies, including Lyman Alpha Emitters and Lyman Break Galaxies. As a member of the HETDEX and LSST collaborations, I will use the baryon acoustic oscillation scale revealed by the clustering of galaxies and dark matter to determine the equation-of-state of the dark energy. Students are working with me on projects analyzing observational data of high-redshift galaxies, taken at several of the world's largest telescopes, and performing simulations to optimize future surveys with HETDEX, the Dark Energy Camera and LSST.

Professor John P. Hughes

Supernova remnants and clusters of galaxies form the core of my research bailiwick. Although there is much that differs between these two classes of astronomical objects, the electromagnetic radiation they emit, which is largely dominated by high energy thermal emission from hot plasmas, provides a common element. Clusters of galaxies, the largest dynamically organized structures known, are composed mostly of dark matter, with roughly 10% of their mass contained in hot X-ray plasma and only a few percent in optically visible galaxies. I maintain active collaborations with the Deep Lens Survey and the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT) projects to utilize galaxy clusters for cosmology. From studies of the gaseous remnants of supernova explosions we learn about stellar and explosive nucleosynthesis, the structure and energy content of the interstellar medium, the physics of supersonic shock waves, and the origin of cosmic rays. In recent years my work in this area has grown to include the compact remnants, i.e., neutron stars or black holes, that are sometimes found near the centers of their associated gaseous remnants. My investigations utilize modern resources in the X-ray (Chandra, XMM-Newton, and Suzaku), optical (SALT, HST, NOAO), infrared (Spitzer), millimeter (ACT), and radio (VLA, ATCA) wavebands.

Professor Saurabh Jha

My research focus is observational cosmology, using telescopes on the ground and in space to study exploding stars in galaxies near and far. These "Type Ia supernovae" have proven to be exquisite tools with which to survey the expansion history of the Universe, and they played the central role in the discovery that the cosmic expansion is speeding up. Precise distances from these supernovae have a number of important cosmological applications, and provide a better understanding of the mysterious "dark energy" that drives the accelerating Universe.

Professor Charles Keeton

I use gravitational lensing to study galaxies and cosmology. Strong lens systems provide the only direct probe of dark matter distributions on subgalactic scales, and therefore provide crucial constraints on the fundamental nature of dark matter. The connection between lenses and their environments offers clues about the processes that drive galaxy evolution. Lenses act as natural telescopes that help us to resolve the internal structure of quasars. They are beginning to let us measure supermassive black holes in distant galaxies. In the future, lensing will provide precise tests of general relativity and alternative gravity theories. My work involves a broad array of research methods, from observations (including HST and SALT) to data modeling to numerical theory to formal mathematics.

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: by clicking on "gravity".

Professor Kristen McQuinn

I am interested in understanding the limits of galaxy formation in the universe, how the lowest mass galaxies evolve, and how we can use these galactic structures as tests of our cosmological models. Most of my work is based on observations of low-mass galaxies in the nearby universe where the observations are best and we can make detailed measurements of the physical processes in galaxies including, for example, deriving detailed star formation and chemical evolution histories. I use data from a wide range of telescopes including HST (resolved stars), the VLA (neutral hydrogen), Chandra (hot winds from galaxies), ground-based facilities (gas-phase chemical abundances, warm winds, ionized gas kinematics). In the future, I look forward to using the new NASA flagship telescope JWST and data from the early release science program on resolved stars.

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 Rachel Somerville

My research aims to understand galaxy formation and evolution in a cosmological context using analytic and semi-analytic models and numerical simulations. In addition, I have been involved with many observational surveys and projects. A particular interest over the past decade has been gaining a better understanding of how supermassive black holes form within galaxies and how they affect their galactic hosts.

Professor Sonia Tikoo (Earth and Planetary Sciences)

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Revised September, 2019