Denison Receives National Science Foundation Grant
Posted: July 23, 2007
The National Science Foundation has awarded Denison University a grant of $97,806 for a project titled "RUI (Research at Undergraduate Institutions): Probing the Physics of Extragalactic Jets on Parsec Scales." Under the direction of Department of Physics and Astronomy Assistant Professor Daniel C. Homan, the grant provides funds for undergraduate and faculty research, equipment, travel and publications, and will last until 2010.
"The purpose of this study is to understand how these extragalactic jets form and function," said Homan. "Although they're billions and billions of light years away traveling very near the speed of light, we'll be able to observe these jets and their polarization with the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA)." The VLBA is a system of 10 radio-telescope antennas across the country that, together, provides the sharpest vision of any telescope on Earth or in space, "and will show us the active galactic nuclei of these jets."
In separate proposals to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Homan received access to the VLBA to study jet structure and composition. "We don't know exactly what's inside the jets, but we know it is possible to have both electrons, which are regular matter, and positrons, which are antimatter," says Homan. Created in ultra high-speed collisions and radioactive decay, antimatter particles are essentially identical to their regular matter partners, except that they have a reversed electrical charge. "It's exciting for us to be able to study these jets, since they are an example of an extreme phenomena."
Homan hopes research of these jets will encourage "tough, real world problems" for Denison students to address and develop self-sufficiency for arriving at a solution. "These are problems that no one knows the answer to, and the process of doing research where the answer is unknown teaches students - and professors - to think outside the box and apply what they have learned in new ways, or sometimes learn entirely new skills to solve a problem."
A member of the Denison faculty since 2003, Homan teaches introductory physics and astronomy, electricity and magnetism, and thermodynamics classes. He primarily researches distant active galaxies and radio jets and earned a bachelor's degree (1994) from the University of Maine, and his master's degree (1996) and doctorate (1999) from Brandeis University. Prior to coming to Denison, Homan was a Jansky Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia. He has been published in Astrophysical Journal, Astronomical Journal, Nature, and Astrophysics and Space Science.
Denison University, founded in 1831, is an independent, residential liberal arts institution located in Granville, Ohio. A highly selective college enrolling 2,100 full-time undergraduate students from all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries, Denison is a place where innovative faculty and motivated students collaborate in rigorous scholarship, civic engagement and the cultivation of independent thinking.
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