Department of Astronomy & Physics

News - Summer 2013

PDF position in experimental nuclear physics


 Postdoctoral research position in experimental nuclear physics at TRIUMF

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Student delegation to AUPAC 2018

AUPAC 2018 student delegation

Our student delegation to the 2018 Atlantic Undergraduate Physics and Astronomy Conference (AUPAC) at UNB.   

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2017/18 new astronomy faculty search

2017/18 new astronomy faculty search

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Aug 21 2017 solar eclipse viewing

There will be a partial solar eclipse with about 50% coverage at maximum around 4:00pm as viewed from Halifax on Monday 21 August.  Public vieweing with safe eclipse glasses and portable telescopes equipped with safe solar filters will be set up near the Burke Building near the corner of Inglis St. and Robie St. on the Saint Mary's campus starting around 2:30.  The eclipse begins around 2:45pm.  One telescope will be equipped with a special "Halpha" filter that provides an especially impressive view of the Sun's chromospheric activity.  

NOTE: Event depends on sky being reasonably unclouded.  

WARNING: Do NOT look at the Sun without the proper protective eye-wear or an instrument with the proper filter!

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Ph.D. in nuclear astrophysics successfully defended

The candidate with his examining committee.

Thesis: Investigations on states of 20Mg and spallation reaction effects for constraining nuclear physics inputs for X-ray bursts

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Saint Mary’s University and TRIUMF project - reveals new insight on nature’s strong nuclear force

Dr. Kanungo June 2017 TRIUMF

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2017 Astronomy and Physics Honours students

2017 Astronomy and Physics Honours students.

Four Honours Physics and Astrophysics students presented the results of their honours thesis research projects today.  From left to right are Hannah Ehler, Tiffany Fields, Parker Reed, and Orry Workman.   Their research projects covered a wide range of scales and physical phenomena, from subatomic physics (Reed, Workman), to supermassive black holes (Ehler), to entire galaxies (Fields).  Congratulations to all four!

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Faculty Search 2017

Astronomy & Physics Tenure-track Assistant Professor search


Faculty Search 2017

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Size of proton distribution in exotic carbon isotopes revealed

part of the GSI, FRS facility where the experiment was performed. Left to right : Dr. Alfredo Estrade (SMU-GSI post doc)., Dr. Rituparna Kanungo (SMU faculty and leader of the project), Dr. Hans Geissel (GSI-FRS team leader).

Carbon with balanced neutron ad proton number is an essential element necessary for life on our planet.  There exists however in nature more exotic forms of carbon where the neutrons out number the protons.  How are the protons in all these isotopes distributed ? Can they tell us how nature’s strong interaction behaves ?

Dr. Rituparna Kanungo, Professor of the Astronomy and Physics Department at Saint Mary’s University led an international team to measure the radii of neutron-rich carbon isotopes using the highest energy rare isotope facility at GSI Helmholtz Center, Darmstadt, Germany.  Post doctoral fellow Dr.Alfredo Estrade (currently Assistant Professor at Central Michigan University, USA) was also a key player in this endeavor.

The results were published in Physical Review Letters on September 2, 2016.

See publication here:

Read more about the work here:


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2016 Undergraduate Symposium

On September 9, 2016, the Department of Astronomy and Physics held its 13th annual Mini-Symposium on Undergraduate Summer Research, sponsored by  both the department and the dean of science.  This year, eight undergraduate students gave brief presentations on their summer work, which varied from the very large (the study of active galactic nuclei and galactic stability), to the very small (measuring production yield of rare isotopes, building instruments for subatomic physics experiments). 

Pictured above from left to right are Martin Hellmich, Derek Blue, Tiffany Fields, Dennis Gallant, Hannah Ehler, Parker Reid, Abbie Salyzyn, and Orry Workman.  Derek is entering his third year of studies at MSVU, while the reminder are all from SMU, some entering each of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years of their respective programmes in (astro)physics.
Congratulations to all of our speakers for a job well done, and particularly to our top three speakers.  Fields' talk on "Looking for a link between disk galaxy stability and the level of chaos in galactic dynamics" under Professor Rob Thacker won honourable mention, Ehler's talk on "A rigorous flux-flux analysis of Markarian 335" under Professor Luigi Gallo won second prize (a bookstore gift certificate), while Workman's talk on "Measuring production yields of rare isotopes" under Dr. Ritu Kanungo won first prize (also a gift certificate).
The symposium programme may be found at

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Luigi Gallo and ASTRO-H

Science reporter Ivan Semeniuk interviews Professor Gallo about the new X-ray telescope ASTRO-H for The Globe and Mail. Click here to link to the article.

UPDATE (May 2016) ASTRO-H suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure after deployment and has been officially declared permanently inoperational.

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Thacker is Science Champion 2016

Dr. Robert Thacker, Canada Research Chair in Computational Astrophysics and Professor in the Department of Astronomy at Saint Mary’s University, was named 2016 Science Champion at the Discovery Centre’s 13 Annual Discovery Award Gala on November 19. The Science Champion Discovery Award honours Nova Scotians who devote time to the promotion of science and technology to the public and support the development of science and innovation-oriented culture in the province. Science Champions are also role models in the community, particularly for youth and students.

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New Blackhole Flare Observations Support Lamppost Model

Post-doctoral Fellow Dan Wilkins, working with Professor Luigi Gallo, from the Department of Astronomy and Physics and Saint Mary's University, interpreted X-ray observations obtained from NASA's Swift and Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescopic Array as evidence for the Lamppost Model that describes the topology of material around a blackhole that leads to flares. The data suggest that the corona "surrounding" the blackhole first shrunk around the blackhole and then, through some mechanism that is not understood at this time, shot away from the blackhole in a  beam-like jet. The base of the jet then appears to collapse again around the blackhole. Their analysis of the observed flare links, for the first time, the behaviour and configuration of the corona and the jet.

Their results, [D.R. Wilkins, L. C. Gallo, D. Grupe (Space Science Center, KY) , Bonson (Ph.D. student, SMU Astronomy and Physics), S. Komossa (Max-Planck-Institut fur Radioastronomie, Bonn), and A.C. Fabian (Cambridge)] will appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (arXiv e-print). Click here to link to NASA's website where the important discovery is described in more detail.

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Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe

 In the first MacLennan Memorial Lecture in Astronomy, Dr. Filippenko (Berkely) will discuss Dark Energy.

We expected the attractive force of gravity to slow down the rate at which the Universe is expanding. But observations of very distant exploding stars (supernovae) show that the expansion rate is actually speeding up, an amazing discovery that was honored with the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics to the teams’ leaders and the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics to all team members. Over the largest distances, the Universe seems to be dominated by a mysterious, repulsive “dark energy” – an idea Albert Einstein had suggested in 1917 but abandoned in 1929 as his “biggest blunder.” It stretches space itself faster and faster with time. But the physical origin and nature of dark energy, which makes up about 70% of the contents of the Universe, is probably the most important unsolved problem in all of physics; it may provide clues to a unified quantum theory of gravity.

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Oscillating Neutron Halo

The IRIS research team has recently observed evidence of a new phenomenon, the soft resonance in a halo, that was precited two decades ago. This occurs when the halo neutrons and core oscillate giving rise to a very low-energy unbound dipole state. The experiment, was carried out using the IRIS facility located at TRIUMF, Vancouver. where the beam of 11Li  collided with a novel solid deuterium target. This target is the novelty of IRIS, giving it the capacity to explore such rare phenomena. The end products of the collision were detected, from which the researchers could re-construct the excitation spectrum of 11Li.

The results were published in Physical Review Letters involving post doctoral fellow, Alisher Sanetullaev,  graduate student, Jaspreet Randhawa and undergraduate students Matthew Keefe and Julia Purcell, together with the project leader R. Kanungo from Saint Mary’s University.


IRIS is a facility led by Saint Mary's University in collaboration with TRIUMF, RCNP,  KEK (Japan), University of Guelph, Simon Fraser University and McMaster University.

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Canadian Astronaut Visits Department

Jeremy Hansen being welcomed by Saint Mary's University President Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray.

Canadian Astronaut, Jeremy Hansen visited the Department of Astronomy and Physics recenty to talk to our students and to give a public talk. He reminded us all to enjoy the journey in the pursuit of our goals.
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Improving mass estimates of galaxies

The masses of galaxies as determined from model fits to resolved images (used here as plotting points) compared to fits using unresolved (i.e., single pixel) images depends on the rate of star formation in the galaxy.

Ph.D. graduate student Sorba and Dr. Sawicki's recent research paper (published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society) shows that model fits to resolved images of galaxies produce similar mass estimates to model fits to unresloved images for galaxies but only for galaxies that have lower rates of internal star fromation. As the star formation rates increase, the masses derived from unresolved model fits are lower (presumably underestimated) compared to the model fits to the resolved images. Indeed, as they show in the figure above the trend is linear. Astronomers can can continue to estimate the masses of galaxies using unresolved images (necessary for faint galaxies such as high red shift galaxies) and then apply a simple correction to improve the mass estimate.
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Dead Galaxies

Liz Arcilia-Osejo was asked by CTV's Live at 5 news team to describe her research on dead galaxies. Liz is a fourth year PhD student , who came to Saint Mary's University from Columbia to work with her supervisor Professor Marcin Sawicki. She and her international team of collaborators are exploring the reasons why certain galaxies stop producing new stars. Her research will be presented at the International Astronomy Union meeting being held in Hawaii this year.

The interview can be seen here:



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Prof. Gallo leads Astro-H

ASTRO-H X-ray Telescope (Credit: JAXA).

Professor Luigi Gallo is looking forward to using ASTRO-H, the next-generation X-ray space telescope, to study the flow of material around supermassive blackholes. Professor Gallo is the Principal Investigator for the Canadian ASTRO-H Metrology System (CAMS), a laser alignment system that will be placed on the X-ray observatory. This is Canada’s technological contribution to the international project lead by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). On March 19, 2015, the Canadian Space Agency announced that the CAMS package has been built and delivered to JAXA.
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In Memoriam of Dr William Lonc

Bill Lonc next to one of his converted radio telescopes on the roof of the MacNally Main building at SMU.

Fr. Dr. William P. Lonc, S.J. (Ph.D., Ph.L., Saint Louis University), Professor Emeritus of the Department of Astronomy and Physics, died on November 27, 2014; he was 84 years old. Link to service information. Link to Father Lonc's web page.

Born in London, Ontario in 1930, he joined the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1954, received his doctorate in Physics in 1964 and became a Jesuit priest in 1968. After his ordainment later the same year, Bill joined the Department of Physics at Saint Mary’s University, then operated by the Jesuits. Given his background in astronomy, Bill was an enthusiastic supporter of the merger in 1993 of his own department with the Department of Astronomy. He remained a full professor in the new Department of Astronomy and Physics until 1995 when, as the last remaining Jesuit in the faculty of science and the second last in the university, he retired. In 2006, he moved to the Canadian Martyrs' Jesuit Community in Toronto, and then to the René Goupil House in Pickering earlier this year where he died last Thursday.

During his career, Bill's most extensive work included his long standing research programme funded by the then Department of Communications, studying long range VHF/UHF radio communications over salt water between Sable Island and SMU. He visited the island each summer for maintenance and field work, and generated a substantial list of publications over the course of the project. Other notable works includes his book "Radio Astronomy Projects" (3rd ed. 2003) which he was working on around the time of his retirement.

As professor emeritus, Bill maintained regular hours at his campus office where he turned much of his attention to assembling and translating historical works relating to the early Jesuit missions in Canada, including one of his better known translations, the biography of (Saint Catherine) Kateri Tekakwitha, the “Lily of the Mohawks”. According to his Wikipedia page, there were some fifty documents which he translated or helped translate over the years.

Bill’s passion academically was microwave physics and radio astronomy, especially when he could involve students in his tinkerings and constructions culminating in his “mini-VLA” on the roof of the McNally Building. There was great excitement when Bill announced that he and his students had detected the sun! (the sun, as are most stars, is a weak radio source.) Bill was known among the students of his day as a “students’ professor”: approachable, affable, and always looking for ways to encourage students in their pursuit of their degrees in physics, astronomy, and engineering. Indeed, the following posting to his obituary page by one of his former students says it all:

Dear Father Lonc;

You were my professor at St. Mary's back in 1969--1970. I fondly remember our outings to "Junky Jim's" recycling yard in Timberlea where we scrounged surplus military microwave pieces and parts and made a great microwave lab. We had a lot of fun and learned a great deal. Your gentle manner and deep knowledge which you willingly shared have served me so very well in my engineering career. God bless you and give you the heavenly reward you so richly deserve.

One of the kindest and gentlest souls one could ever hope to meet, Bill is fondly remembered at SMU by all those who worked with him, knew him, or studied under him. To a man who lived his life for the good of others, we wish him Godspeed.

Davids Clarke, Lane, and Turner, on behalf of the Department of Astronomy and Physics.

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Best Undergraduate Science Paper

Logran Francis's Science Writing Wins Award

Logan Francis's paper, which he wrote for his Experimental Physics II class (PHYS 4600, Dr. Michael Dunlavy), was awarded Best Undergaduate Science Paper by the Saint Mary's University Writing Centre. Logan write about his experimental project in which he built several physical random number generators and performed statistical tests on the randomness of their output. 

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New Telescope

On October 29, Professor Rob Thacker and Observatory Director Dave Lane (Department of Astronomy and Physics) unveiled the Burke-Gaffney Observatory’s (BGO) Planewave 0.6-metre CDK24 telescope—the second largest on a Canadian University campus. 

Named in honour of its major benefactors, Dr. Ralph M. Medjuck and his wife Shirlee (above with their daughter Linda), the telescope and new observation deck will greatly enhance the university’s teaching and science outreach facilities. It will also be accessible to the public through group tours and regular viewing nights.

The new telescope offers higher optical performance, a matching digital imaging camera, and state-of-the-art control systems that allow full remote control of the entire observatory (below with graduate student Maan Hani).

Dave Lane is developing software to sync the Dr. Ralph M. Medjuck telescope to social media, allowing it to be monitored and controlled by Facebook and Twitter users worldwide. When complete, this will be the first telescope in the world with this capability.

To see a video of the telescope and BGO renovations click here.

To learn more about the BGO or to arrange to visit one of our public viewing sessions click here.

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Professor Deupree Retires

A Good Journey

Bob Deupree held Saint Mary’s University’s first tier I Canadian Research Chair, serving for eleven years as the director of the Institute for Computation Astrophysics. Bob is retiring from academic life and moving with his wife, Jan, to Oregon to be closer to their two sons. We all wish them both the very best in their future journeys. Happy Retirement!

Bob, who earned his Ph.D. from Toronto in 1977, came to Saint Mary's from Los Alamos National Lab in 2003 after a rather protracted world-wide search to fill this senior post. Bob and the department gave each other a very hard look, but it was clear fairly soon into the process that we had each found a good match. One of us (DC) remembers well the trip taken with Bob and Jan to Peggy's Cove during his interview trip where, even though nothing was actually signed, the deal to bring Bob and Jan to Nova Scotia seemed to have been sealed!

Under Bob’s directorship the ICA grew from three to six full time faculty members, appointed eight postdoctoral fellows, graduated numerous students including SMU's first Ph.D., Dr. Catherine Lovekin (recently hired into a tenure-track position at Mount Allison), welcomed many visiting scientists, and hosted two international conferences on computational astrophysics.

Bob's impact has also been felt regionally and nationally. He was one of the co-PIs on the ACEnet proposal (then lead by Mark Whitmore of MUN) which, at the time, was the largest award ever received by an Atlantic Canadian university consortium. Furthermore, the portion of ACEnet allocated to SMU was the largest single research grant ever received by this university. In 2004, Bob became the ACEnet Principal Investigator, a responsibility he held for five years. Bob also served on the CITA board, the HIA Advisory Board, the Board, and the National Initiatives Committee.

Bob’s main research interest, initiated early on in graduate school, is the application of numerical hydrodynamics to stellar evolution and pulsation. He attacked what was arguably the most important and difficult unresolved problem in stellar pulsation theory, explaining the cause of the red-edge of the instability strip. By 1977 he had solved it. His three-dimensional hydrodynamical stellar models followed the interaction of turbulent convection and pulsation and showed how the former inhibits the latter as stars move across the red-edge.

His research career did not peak there. In the early 1980s, with postdoc Peter Cole, they produced 2-D hydrodynamical models of the helium flash (an explosive event in the ten billion year life of a star lasting only a few minutes that blows away a significant fraction of the star’s outer envelope) and were the first ever to show how the star’s outer envelope can be blown away without disrupting the remaining star.

And there was yet another peak in his research career. Upon arriving at Saint Mary’s University he began studying one of the most difficult problems in stellar pulsation theory, the interaction of rotation and pulsation. When the time scales of these two processes are comparable, nonlinear interactions lead to an almost chaotic oscillation spectrum. Indeed, in the many decades-long history of collecting observational data on rapidly rotating stars, no significant theoretical progress has been made in analyzing their pulsations. That is until Bob and his Ph.D. students (Catherine Lovekin, Chris Geroux, and Diego Castaneda) began working on the problem. Their multidimensional hydrodynamical models that include rapid rotation and account for the distorted shape of the star have been able to untangle some of the complex structure found in the oscillation spectra of these massive, rapidly rotating stars.

Bob's seminal contributions to astronomy, his devoted support of postdocs and supervision of graduate students, and his expert leadership in our computational research group have inspired all of us. Thank you Bob for your years of service; we speak for the department and the ICA when we say we shall all miss you very much. -Professors David Clarke and David Guenther (founding members of the ICA).

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Demos on YouTube

Mike Dunlavy playing with liquid nitrogen.

M‌ichael Dunlavy helps create Popular YouTube Site

Astronomy and physics video demonstrations are proving to be very popular. With the assistance of some of our undergraduate students, Science Technician Michael Dunlavy has built up a large collection of videos demonstrating basic physics and astronomy. The videos cover electricity and magnetism, mechanics, fluids, thermodynamics, optics, waves, and astronomy. They can be found here or on YouTube.

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$1.6 million CFI Grant

Dr. Kanungo's Research Collaboration Receives $1.6 million CFI Grant

Saint Mary's nuclear physicist Dr. Rituparna Kanungo has received $1.6 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation in support of an advanced research facility that will allow her to recreate, purify, and condition rare isotopes that haven't existed on the planet for millions of years.

"This exciting area of research has many potential practical applications," says Steven Smith, Dean of Science at Saint Mary's. "Researchers, industry, and government partners alike will be following the CANREB project closely."

The CANadian Rare-isotope facility with Electron-Beam ion source (CANREB) project is led by Saint Mary's University, the University of Manitoba, and Advanced Applied Physics Solutions, Inc., in collaboration with the University of British Columbia, the University of Guelph, Simon Frasier University, and TRIUMF.

TRIUMF is Canada's national laboratory for nuclear and particle physics. It is owned and operated as a joint venture by a consortium of Canadian universities that Saint Mary's University.

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Kirsten Bonson

Congratulations to Kirsten Bonson who successfully defended her MSc thesis, "A deep multi-epoch X-ray analysis of the unobscured Seyfert 1 galaxy HE 0436-4717". The members of her examining committee were Professors Robert Thacker and Roby Austin, and her supervisor was Luigi Gallo. Kirsten has been accepted to the PhD program at SMU where she will work on X-ray observations of active galaxies.
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Mitchell Young

Congratulations to Mitchell Young who successfully defended his M.Sc. thesis entitled NLTE 1.5D Modelling of Red Giant Stars on 21 August 2013. Mitch investigated how the inferred properties of bright old red giant stars depend on whether computer models of their atmospheres take into account variation in temperature across their surfaces and realistic treatment of how the gas absorbs light. Mitch found that estimates of the red giant's "surface" temperature using standard methods can be as much as 500 Kelvin (K) higher than the true average temperature of the star's surface. This represents an important step forward in our ability to accurately characterize these stars, and to use them as probes of Galactic structure and history. Mitch mastered the use of sophisticated computer modelling, and developed important tools for simulating realistically observable stellar quantities.
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James Wurster, Ph.D.

Congratulations to Dr. James Wurster who successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis, "Feedback from Active Galactic Nuclei: A Study of its Impact and Numerical Implementations" Supervisor Professor Rob Thacker. Committee: Professors David Clarke, Luigi Gallo, and Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo).

James's thesis investigated a number of different approaches to modelling the energy return to galaxies by active galactic nuclei. Using a suite of six different simulations approaches he showed that despite many people suggesting the M-sigma relationship of the black hole mass to stellar velocity dispersion is a strong constraint on models, in fact most models have distinctly different accretion histories despite matching the relationship. In a secondary investigation, modelling positive feedback, where the active galactic nuclei drive the formation of stars, James has shown that stars born in this manner are rapidly converted to rotating orbits in the galactic potential, making them difficult to discern from those formed in merger processes.

James will be starting a postdoctoral position at Monash University in Australia, with Dr Daniel Price, at the beginning of September.

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Sherry Hurlburt, MSc

Congratulations to Sherry Hurlburt who successfully defended her MSc thesis, "Strong Fe-Lα Fluorescent Emission in Type-1 Seyfert Galaxies". Her work was supervised by Professor Luigi Gallo and the Committee members were Professors Robert Deupree and Kamil Bradler.

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Michael Gruberbauer, Ph.D.

Congratulations to Michael Gruberbauer who successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis, "Bayesian Asteroseismology" before his thesis defense committee, Drs. Robert Deupree (Saint Mary's University), Robert Thacker (SMU), Travis Metcalfe (National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder), and, his supervisor, David Guenther (SMU). His thesis describes a new probabilistic method for the asteroseismic analysis of stellar structure and evolution, which he applied to the Sun and to solar-type stars observed by NASA's Kepler satellite. Gruberbauer, who held a Vanier Fellowship, authored over two dozen research papers while he was a student. He plans to return to Austria to undertake a new career in meteorology.
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Dr. Chris Geroux, Ph.D.

Congratulations to Dr. Chris Geroux who successfully defended his Ph. D. thesis entitled “The Interaction Between Multi-Dimensional Convection and Radial Stellar Pulsation” on Thursday, January 31. His research was supervised by Dr. Robert Deupree and the external examiner was Dr. Robert Stellingwerf of Stellingwerf Consulting. The other thesis defense committee members were Drs. Luigi Gallo and Ian Short. Chris’ research focused on 1D, 2D, and 3D hydrodynamic simulations of radially pulsating RR Lyrae variables with the objective of computing full amplitude solutions for comparison with observed light curves. Convection, which is believed to limit the pulsational amplitude near the red edge of the RR Lyrae gap, arises naturally in the 2D and 3D calculations without recourse to a phenomenological approach such as the local mixing length theory. A particularly interesting result is that Chris’ light curve for a model near the red edge resembles that of an observed star significantly more closely than do light curves computed with 1D mixing length treatments. Chris is now working as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Isabelle Baraffe at the University of Exeter.
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David Williamson, Ph.D.

Congratulations to Dr. David Williamson who successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis, "The Origin and Evolution of Cold Gaseous Structures in Galaxies and Galactic Outflows" Supervisor Professor Rob Thacker. Committee: Professors Marcin Sawicki, Bob Deupree, and Hugo Martel (Universite Laval).

David's thesis examines the formation and evolution cold gaseous structures in galaxies and galactic outflows in two distinct scenarios. The first investigation details the impact of the collisions between molecular clouds on the overall viscous evolution of galactic disks. Previous analytic estimates suggested the time-scale associated with this process is 1000 Gyr, far in excess of the Hubble time. David showed these calculations are incorrect and numerical results, along with a new analytical approach, show that the viscous time-scale can be shorter than the lifetime of the Universe. The second part of the thesis examines the creation of cold clouds in outflows from modeled Ultra-luminous Infrared Galaxies (ULIRGS). Using adaptive mesh refinement simulations David has shown that 3d simulations can approximately reproduce the key features of absorption lines in these systems, such as line widths. Including sub-grid turbulence models was not found to improve the accuracy of these models and detailed convergence studies will likely be necessary in the future to determine precisely the nature of cold clouds in outflows.

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Anneya Golob, M.Sc.

Congratulations to Anneya Golob who successfully defended her M.Sc. thesis, "Blue BX Galaxies Breaking Bad." Supervisor Professor Marcin Sawicki. Committee: Professors Robert Thacker and Luigi Gallo. Anneya has been accepted into the Ph.D. program at SMU.
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Prof. Kanungo presents at Nobel Symposium

Saint Mary's Professor, Rituparna Kanungo, Astronomy and Physics, attended the 2012 Nobel Symposium,Physics with Radioactive Beams, where she presented a paper, A New Picture of Nuclear Shells. The symposium is a "prestigious, invitation-only event that is part of the Nobel Foundation's Symposium project, which initiates discussions dedicated to areas of science where breakthroughs are occurring or where the topic is of primary cultural or social significance." Dr. Kanungo's presentation explored "the individual character of nuclear isotopes and the shifting of understanding of nuclear shells."
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Daniel Majaess, Ph.D.

Congratulations to Dr. Dan Majaess who successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis, "Constraining the Impact of Metallicity on Cepheid Distances via a Refined Galactic Calibration." Supervisor Professor David Turner. Committee: Professors Phil Bennet, Ian Short, and Tom Barnes (University of Texas).

To paraphrase the abstract from Dan's thesis, Dan presented evidence implying that the classical Cepheid VIc period-Wesenheit function is relatively insensitive to metallicity. His results indicate that variations in chemical composition among Cepheids are a comparatively negligible source of uncertainty for VIc Wesenheit-based period-luminosity (PL) relations and extragalactic distances, for determinations of Ho, and for the selection of a cosmological model. His conclusions rest in part on a Galactic classical Cepheid PL calibration that was revised using near-infrared JHKs photometry for new and existing clusters containing Cepheid variables.

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Jason Sharpe, M.Sc.

Congratulations to Jason Sharpe who successfully defended his M.Sc. thesis, "Design and Construction Elements for Scintillating Fibre Tracking Detectors." Supervisor Professor Adam Sarty. Committee: Professors Robert Singer, Mahbub Khandaker (Norfolk State University), and David Hornidge (Mount Allison University).

Jason's thesis discusses technical issues associated with designing and constructing a scintillating fibre tracker. His results will be directly incorporated into the construction of a scintillating fibre coordinate detector to be built for future experiments at Jefferson Lab's Hall A in Newport News, VA, USA.

In Jason's words: "In many nuclear and particle physics experiments, scientists need to know precise information about a particle, such as the direction it is traveling. A common way to determine this is by using a detector called a scintillating fibre tracker. This detector can determine the path of ionizing particles, a fancy word for any particle that causes electrons to separate from the atom or molecule they are bonded to. The detector relies on a phenomenon called scintillation, which is simply a very fast emission of light after a particle passes through a scintillating fibre. The released light then travels down the fibre to be seen by a light-to-electric converter, to allow scientists to collect information."

Shows normalized light transmission ratios for various optical couplant and fibre-end finish combinations. Optical grease in combination with factory or polished finish provide the highest light transmission efficiency.

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Patrick Fortier's poster wins top award.

At the annual Applied Science event held at Saint Mary's University, graduate student, Patrick Fortier, was awarded first prize for his poster, "Investigating Exotic Nuclei Through Transfer Reactions at IRIS."

Patrick is working with Professor Kanungo on an experiment to study weakly bound nuclei, specifically lithium 11, which is a halo nuclei (one neutron in orbit about a core of 3 protons and 7 neutrons). His work takes him to the TRIUMF cyclotron where he is currently testing the ionization chamber, a component of the detector for light and heavy exotic nuclei.

The theoretically predicted kinematics (energy versus scattering angle) will eventually be compared with the results of their experiments.

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2012 Graduate Students

This years graduate students pose for a class picture just before the start of Journal Club. In Journal Club students present short critical summaries of papers taken from the current astronomical literature. One of the students (computer screen) is attending the class remotely. From left to right: Bobby Sorba (computer screen), Michael Gruberbauer, David Williamson, Sherry Hurlburt, Anneya Golob, Liz Arcila Osejo, Diego Castaneda, Kirsten Bonson, Mitch Young, James Wurster, Chris Cooke, Dan Majaess, Chris Geroux, and Mike Casey.

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Applying to Our Graduate Program in Astronomy?

Application forms and procedures can be found at the web site. We recommend that you review the information about our Department on this site to first to see if our program is of interest to you. Our graduate program in astronomy is described in detail on . The deadline for completed applications receiving highest priority is February 28, 2012, although, we continue to consider applications after that up until we have filled all available slots.

Graduate student workshop CASCA 2010 held at Saint Mary's University.

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Job Guarantee

96% Guarantee to get a job with a degree in Astonomy or Astrophysics. The Wall Street Journal reports that the unemployment level after graduating with an Astronomy or Astrophysics degree is 0% based on a study at Georgetown University. The Georgetown University report actually states the unemployment rate is 6%, still an impressive figure. Click here to link to the WSJ article and here to link to the original study.

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Liz Arcila Osejo, M.Sc.

Congratulations to Liz Arcila Osejo who successfully defended her M.Sc. thesis, "Star-Forming and Passive Galaxies at z~2 in the CFHT Legacy Survey." Supervisor Professor Marcin Sawicki. Committee: Professors Robert Thacker and Luigi Gallo. Liz has been accepted into the Ph.D. program at SMU.
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Michael Casey, Dr.

Congratulations to Mike Casey who successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis, "Analysis of pre-main-sequence delta Scuti stars." Supervisor: Professor David Guenther. External reader: Dr. Konstanze Zwintz (Vienna). Committee: Professors Ian Short and Robert Deupree.

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Top Awards

At this years Undergraduate Mini-symposium, Damien Robertson took first place for his talk on Penning traps (See March 4, 2011 News below) and Wlfried Beslin took second place for his talk on the asteroseismology of rotating stars.
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Larkin Duelge, M.Sc.

Congratulations to Larken Duelge who successfully defended her M.Sc. thesis, "Deepest Serendipitous Survey of the Intermediate Galactic Latitude from XMM-Newton." Supervisor Professor Luigi Gallo. Committee: Professors Robert Deupree, Ian Short, and Robert Thacker.
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Jonathon Ramsey, Dr.

Congratulations to Jon Ramsey who successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis, "Into the void: Simulations of protostellar jets from Keplerian." Superviser Professor David Clarke. Committee: Professors Luigi Gallo, Robert Thacker, and Tom Jones (Minnesota).
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Professor Luigi Gallo leads Canadian Astro-H astronomers

Professor Gallo and President Dodds enjoying a moment at the Canadian Astronomical Society meeting held at SMU in 2010.

Saint Mary's Astronomy & Physics professor Dr. Luigi Gallo has been appointed to lead a team of Canadian scientists working on a Japanese-led space exploration program Astro-H. Astro-H is an X-ray telescope that will probe the physics of black holes and giant clusters of galaxies with an accuracy and precision unparalleled in space telescope history. Dr Gallo and his students will be among the first astronomers to use Astro-H's new high precision instruments.
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Annual CASCA meeting

Left to right, Mike Casey, Dr. Marcin Sawicki, Bobby Sorba, and Dr. Robert Thacker.

This year's CASCA meeting, held in London Ontario, was attended by Professors Marcin Sawicki (invited presentation) and Robert Thacker (CASCA board), and graduate students Mike Casey (contributed talk) and Bobby Sorba (contributed talk).
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Graduate student Dan Majaess receives award.

Dan Majaess in front of his poster. (photo courtesy David Turner)

At the joint AAS/AAVSO meeting in Boston Ph.D. graduate student Dan Majaess was awarded the Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Graduate Student Award for his poster paper "Securing the Distance Scale Via a Universal Wesenheit VI Template and Deep Infrared ZAMS." His research, with Professor David Turner and Dave Lane, involves developing a framework to bolster the precision of the astronomical distance scale, which includes deriving improved distances to nearby galaxies and the center of the Milky Way. Also attending were Dan's supervisor, Professor David Turner, and former SMU astronomy graduate students, Hilding Neilson, Kevin Douglas, Nick MacDonald, and Louise Edwards.
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Exploring Neutron Rich Isotopes in our Universe.

Exploring Neutron Rich Isotopes in our Universe.

We are proud to announce that Saint Mary’s University Physics Professor Rituparna Kanungo has been awarded an NSERC-DAS award (Discovery Accelerator Supplements) for $120,000 over three years to study the structure of the nucleus of the atom. The DAS award, to quote the NSERC web site, is given to “researchers who have a well-established research program [which is highly rated in terms of originality and innovation] and who show strong potential to become international leaders in their respective area of research.” The award will supplement her five year NSERC Discovery grant of $500,000.

Dr. Kanungo is studying neutron rich nuclei. The conventional picture of the atom we were taught in school still holds true: the atom is made up of a core, or nucleus, of neutrons and protons surrounded by electrons. The protons have a positive charge that in neutral atoms is balanced by the negative charge of the electrons. Neutrons have about the same mass as protons but do not have any electric charge. So what are the neutrons for? This is exactly the kind of question that Dr. Kanungo is trying to answer by studying some of the most exotic, rule-breaking types of nuclei, nuclei that have an unusually high number of neutrons compared to protons. Neutron rich nuclei are unstable and decay quickly to other more conventional or stable nuclei. As a consequence they have to be created in the laboratory. Dr. Kanungo is using the particle accelerator beams at TRIUMF (Canada’s national laboratory located at UBC in Vancouver) to create and study neutron rich nuclei.

As to why Nature needs neutrons, Dr. Kanungo, explains, “A neutron and a proton together create a bound system. Two protons (or two neutrons) together are not bound. Such is the mystery of the strongest force in nature (the nuclear force), a complete understanding of which remains as one of our major goals in nuclear science. Neutrons being uncharged, can be added on to a positively charged nucleus without much effort (since they do not face Coulomb repulsion) to create heavier isotopes. Nature likely has chosen this path to create most of heavy elements around us like gold, platinum, and uranium, in the core of supernovae, which are a natural site of many neutrons. We are working on creating and understanding the behavior of these neutron-rich nuclei that are unknown to us now.”

The number of neutrons and protons in isotopes of the known elements. The half-life is color coded with light blue corresponding to unstable isotopes and dark red corresponding to stable isotopes.

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3M National Teaching Fellowships

Dr. Adam Sarty has received one of ten 3M National Teaching Fellowships. Later this year Dr. Sarty will be inducted into the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Dr. Sarty is about to demonstrate that all objects near the earth's surface fall to the ground at the same rate. Everyone knows that a feather and ball bearing will not fall at the same rate but this is because air friction slows the descent of the feather more than the ball bearing. If you compare the rate at which a feather and a ball bearing fall in a vacuum, you will discover that they do indeed fall to the ground at the same rate.

Why is this so? Undergraduate level physics explanation: it's because the inertial force (F=ma) and the gravitational force (GmM/r^2) both depend on the mass of the object, m, and the mass cancels out. Graduate level physics explanation: experiments show inertial mass is equal to gravitational mass to within experimental uncertainties but we do not have a theory of mass and gravity (quantum gravity) that explains why the two should be equal, i.e., we don't know why.

You can see a video of Adam's experiment by clicking here. Other physics and astronomy demonstrations can be found at our Astronomy and Physics Demonstrations web site.

Apollo 15 Commander David Scott dropped a hammer and a feather on the surface of the moon. You can see what happened here.

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Supernova Discovery

Kathryn at her computer comparing star fields taken at different times. (photo courtesy Paul Gray).

A supernova was discovered by Kathryn Aurora Gray (age 10) using images taken from theAbbey Ridge Observatory (operated by our Department's Astronomy technician, David Lane). Kathryn, daughter of Paul Gray, who, himself has discovered a half-dozen supernova, wanted to follow in her father's footsteps. She spent the fall of 2010 examining a library of practice images looking for the sudden appearance of a new star. Then in the new year began looking at current images.

Supernova are not new stars but, in fact, old stars, nearing the end of their nuclear burning life. In a final burst, the star ignites enough nuclear fuel in its core that the resultant wave of energy blows away the outer layers of the star (in some cases forming a ring nebula). In the night sky, an anonymous and faint star, will suddenly appear. Kathryn's supernova (also known as Supernova 2010lt) is far too faint to be seen by the naked eye. Her supernova (mag ~17) appeared in the galaxy UGC 3378 (mag 15). Supernova are extremely important to astronomers. They are used to measure distances to distant galaxies and are, as a consequence, central to the debate on the existence of Dark Energy.

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Congratulations David Williamson

Congratulations to astronomy graduate student David Williamson and astronomy undergraduate Wilfried Beslin for having their scientific visualization photo selected to be included in the University's 2011 Science Calendar. And congratulations to Dr. Rob Thacker for having his scientific visualization photo selected as one of the top three photos over-all in the same competition.

Flight over a virtual universe: the temperature of the gas in a slice of a simulated universe. Each dot corresponds to a galaxy (Thacker).

2D photo of the 3D rendering of the ACEnet Data Cave showing the space shuttle docking at the international space station (Williamson & Beslin).

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Bobby Sorba

Simulation of Euclid's photometric redshift accuracy without (left) and with (right) the Canadian proposed U+G channel. The U+G channel dramatically reduces the scatter, i.e, improves performance.

Recent SMU astronomy graduate Bobby Sorba has been working as part of a group commissioned by the Canadian Space Agency to look into how Canada might contribute to the plannedEuropean Euclid space mission . Euclid's goal is to better understand Dark Energy, which is the recently-discovered but mysterious substance that accounts for 70% of "stuff" in the Universe (of the remaining 30%, about 25% is Dark Matter and only 5% is "ordinary" matter). Working with professor Dr Marcin Sawicki , Bobby used the computing power of ACEnet to generate realistic simulations of how adding a Canadian-designed U+G channel would affect performance. Last week Bobby presented his results at the project team milestone meeting at COM DEV in Ottawa.
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Congratulations Masaki Uchida

Congratulations to undergraduate student Masaki Uchida , who took first prize in the nuclear physics category, and to undergraduate student Damien Robertson , who took second prize in the astronomy category, for their oral presentations at Canadian Undergraduate Physics Conference held in Halifax.

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Graduate student Mike Casey

Young Star Cluster containing several pulsating pre-main-sequence stars (photo: K. Zwintz)

Graduate student Mike Casey travelled to Vienna, Austria where he collaborated withDr. Konstanze Zwintz and presented his current Ph.D. research on pulsating pre-main-sequence stars to the astronomers at the University of Vienna Institue of Astronomy .

Check out WEBDA page for open cluster NGC 6530

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Congratulations to Andrew Marquis

Congratulations to Andrew Marquis for successfully defending his M.Sc. Thesis, The Evolution of Star Formation Rates in High-Redshif Galaxies, before a committee consisting of his supervisor, Dr. Marcin Sawicki, and readers, Drs. Rob Thacker and David Guenther.
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Class Photo

The Astronomy and Physics Department gets its class photo taken.


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Big Move

We have moved! Our new home is in the Atrium.
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Best Poster

Undergraduate Michael Palmer and Graduate Michael Gruberbauer awarded "best poster" at CASCA 2010.

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CASCA 2010

Test Caption

Hosted the CASCA 2010 meeting.
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Congratulations Damien Robertson

Congratulations to undergraduate Damien Robertson who has been awarded a scholarship to do research at TRIUMF in Vancouver. TRUIMF (originally named Tri University Meson Facility) is a subatomic physics laboratory running a cyclotron particle accelerator.

Damien will be working in the TRIUMF Ion Trap for Atomic and Nuclear Science (TITAN) project. This is aPenning trap facility that traps radioactive ions using a strong magnetic field and a weak electrostatic field to perform precision measurement of its mass. Mass is one of the fundamental properties of a nucleus. High accuracy mass measurements provide information on what are the limits of existence of nuclear isotopes and how does the binding of nucleons change as the isotopes become more neutron-rich. This is one of the important ingredients to understand the nuclear reaction path that creates heavy elements in cores of supernovae. Precise mass measurements can also be used to test theoretical corrections that are used to study the CKM matrix element Vud in search for effects beyond the standard model.

Schematic from TITAN project web site.

Damien will also be working in the nuclear reactions projects of Dr. R. Kanungo. Dr. Kanungo is leading a CFI funded project to SMU, “ISAC Charges Particle Spectroscopy Station (IRIS)” to build a facility at TRIUMF to investigate unstable nuclei.

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Prof. Turner's Work on the North Star Garners International Press

A new distance to the North Star (Polaris) by Saint Mary's Professor David Turner implies that the famed star is 30% nearer than inferred from existing satellite-based measurements. The new distance established for Polaris by Turner and collaborators relies on a high-resolution spectral analysis. “Polaris presents certain anomalies that have so far defied a straightforward interpretation,” noted Dr. Turner. He went on to add that “Our high-resolution spectroscopic observations of Polaris may signal the beginning of a new era in understanding the star.” The research has garnered international press, and has been featured on


and CBS

A preprint of the article which will appear in the Astrophysical Journal Letters is available here:

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