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Synchrotron Science on the Move in South Africa February 4, 2012

Posted by International.Chair in : Nuclear and Particle Physics (NPP) , add a comment

By Sekazi K. Mtingwa
MIT and African Laser Centre
Consultant to Brookhaven National Laboratory

Excitement is growing within South Africa’s synchrotron light source user community. That excitement led to a two-day workshop, held December 1-2, 2011, in Pretoria to finalize plans for the drafting of a strategic plan document to be submitted to the government’s Department of Science and Technology (DST), which is broadly responsible for science and technology in the country, and the National Research Foundation (NRF), which is responsible for the distribution of research funding similar to what the National Science Foundation does in the United States. Top officials from those agencies attended the workshop, including Romilla Maharaj, NRF Executive Director of Human and Institutional Capacity Development; Rakeshnie Ramoutar, NRF Program Director of Strategic Platforms; and Takalani Nemaungani, DST Director of Global Projects. Daniel Adams, Chief Director: Emerging Research Areas & Infrastructure at the DST, provided funding for the workshop and the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP), which is similar to our American Physical Society, handled the logistics.

The entity that mainly drove the convening of the workshop was the Synchrotron Research Roadmap Implementation Committee (SRRIC), which is chaired by Tshepo Ntsoane from the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (NECSA) and co-chaired by Wolf-Dieter Schubert from the University of the Western Cape.

Approximately forty scientists attended the meeting, including those from international facilities. Herman Winick of SLAC and Sekazi Mtingwa of MIT attended, and Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Erik Johnson and Ken Evans-Lutterodt joined via teleconferencing. Johnson and Evans-Lutterodt discussed the pros and cons of South Africa’s inheriting Brookhaven’s second generation light source called the National Synchrotron Light Source, which is soon to be replaced by NSLS II. However, the consensus of the workshop was that a new third generation facility would much better serve national and regional needs. The largest contingent of foreign visitors were from the various European light sources, including José Baruchel, Jürgen Härtwig, and the Laboratory Director General, Francesco Sette, from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France; Jasper Plaisier from Elettra in Trieste, Italy; Trevor Rayment from Diamond in Oxfordshire, UK; and Hermann Franz from Petra III in Hamburg, Germany. Oxford University’s Angus Kirkland did an outstanding job of facilitating the two-day meeting.

South Africa is relatively new to the international community of synchrotron light source users. Simon Connell, of the University of Johannesburg, has documented the history of South African scientists’ usage of synchrotron radiation. The first were Trevor Derry and Jacques Pierre Friederich “Friedel” Sellschop (deceased), both from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). In 1994, Derry performed studies of diamond surfaces at both the Synchrotron Radiation Source-Daresbury Laboratory and ESRF. During the same year, Sellschop participated in other diamond studies at ESRF. Then in 1996, Giovanni Hearne, currently at the University of Johannesburg, used the facility at ESRF to study materials under extreme pressures. Bryan Doyle, now at the University of Johannesburg, served as a postdoctoral researcher at ESRF around 1999. From those early efforts, the synchrotron light source user community started to grow.

Hearne’s early experiences at ESRF so excited him that, upon returning to South Africa, he wrote a two-page letter to Khotso Mokhele, then President of the Foundation for Research Development (now the National Research Foundation), to share those experiences and impress upon him that a synchrotron light source is a key single tool that could have wide impact across many scientific disciplines. Moreover, Hearne suggested that a long-term goal should be for South Africa to construct its own light source via a consortium of international partners, especially involving neighboring countries in Southern Africa.

In 2002, at the urging of the Edward Bouchet-Abdus Salam Institute (EBASI), which is an organization based at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste that promotes African – African American collaborations, the African Laser Centre included the design and construction of a synchrotron light source as a long-term goal in its Strategy and Business Plan. Next, Tony Joel and Gabriel Nothnagel of NECSA co-authored a motivational paper entitled, The South African Light Source: Proposal for a Feasibility Study for the Establishment of an African Synchrotron Radiation Facility (2003), followed by Tony Joel’s paper, The South African Synchrotron Initiative: The South African Light Source: A Synchrotron for Africa – Strategic Plan (2004). On another front, in 2004, the DST/NRF/SAIP commissioned an international panel of experts that released the report, Shaping the Future of Physics in South Africa, which called for consideration of new flagship projects to complement those in astronomy, such as the South African Large Telescope (SALT) and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). They used a synchrotron light source as a prime example of such a project. Key members of that panel from the U.S. were Ken Evans-Lutterodt, S. James Gates from the University of Maryland-College Park, and Guebre Tessema from the National Science Foundation.

The first organizational structure for a synchrotron science community took shape in 2003, when a committee of synchrotron users established the South African Synchrotron Initiative (SASI). Van Zyl de Villiers of NECSA played a key role in getting DST’s participation in SASI activities. The leadership of SASI mainly consisted of Tony Joel; Simon Connell; Giovanni Hearne; and Lowry Conradie, an accelerator physicist from South Africa’s national accelerator center called iThemba LABS, located just outside of 3 Cape Town. As a result of its participation with SASI, in January 2005, the DST itself assumed a leading role in building the synchrotron science community by forming the Synchrotron Task Team (STT), with Tshepo Seekoe of the DST serving as Chair and Simon Connell leading the development of the science case. It was during this period that the synchrotron science community began to mobilize as a coherent group.

With the assistance of SOLEIL, ESRF and other organizations, the STT organized the first two of a series of roughly biennial Science @ Synchrotrons Conferences (S@S) in November 2005 and February 2007. Both conferences were extremely successful in developing new projects and sparking the interest of students in synchrotron light source training. Members of the U.S. physics community, including Herman Winick, Alfred Msezane of Clark Atlanta University, and Sekazi Mtingwa, participated in planning and giving presentations at those conferences, which helped to establish a close partnership between South African synchrotron users and their foreign colleagues, especially the French. After the second conference in 2007, the synchrotron community further empowered itself with the establishment of SRRIC, which succeeded the STT in championing synchrotron science in South Africa. The first Chairs of SRRIC were Simon Connell and Giovanni Hearne. Following the S@S conference in February 2009, Brian Doyle assumed the Chair, followed by Tshepo Ntsoane.

All the above-mentioned activities culminated in the excitement that birthed the December 2011 Strategic Plan Workshop. The NRF representatives requested that SRRIC document the outputs of the workshop by March 2012 in the form of a white paper strategic plan. Then it would study the white paper to determine if it would give the go-ahead for the development of a detailed business plan by June 2012. Those dates were selected to coincide with the dates of the various stages of the government’s budgeting process. SSRIC appointed a three-person committee to write the strategic plan, consisting of Brian Masara, Executive Officer of SAIP; Douglas Sanyahumbi, Director of the Technology Transfer Office at the University of the Western Cape; and Sekazi Mtingwa, with the latter chairing the committee.

Although the strategic plan has not been completed, there are some overarching comments that can be made. First, there is widespread agreement that the mission of SRRIC going forward will be as follows: To support and facilitate the development and growth of synchrotron science in South Africa in order to ensure that it contributes to excellence in science, innovation and industrial development by exploiting the benefits of synchrotron radiation in advancing fundamental and applied science through

1. Developing human capital, including attracting back the African scientific Diaspora (brain gain) and mitigating any threat of brain drain of young South 4 Africans who have recognized this as a key research tool for their career development;
2. Developing key and/or strategic international collaborations;
3. Ensuring financial support to South Africans whose proposals successfully compete for beam-time at international synchrotron facilities; and
4. Promoting awareness and use of synchrotron science and its capacity to enable the exploration of new frontiers of technology.

In pursuing this mission, the synchrotron science community and the government must undertake a number of key initiatives, including

1. Deciding at what level it should formalize its relationships with foreign light source facilities, especially with ESRF, which is the most heavily used by South African researchers; (Francesco Sette invited South Africa to join ESRF as a Scientific Associate at the 1% level, since its researchers’ utilization of that facility is already approximately at that level.)
2. Studying the feasibility of constructing South African or multinational beam-lines at foreign synchrotron facilities;
3. Promoting a significant growth in the number of synchrotron users, with a heavy emphasis on increasing the number of students being trained, such as at the many synchrotron radiation schools that are offered at a number of international facilities and institutions, such as ICTP;
4. Developing programs to preserve and expand the existing technical expertise, such as sending scientists and engineers abroad to join accelerator teams at foreign facilities to expand capabilities in areas such as ultra-high vacuum systems, radiofrequency cavities, magnets, power supplies, and controls;
5. Improving the local, critical feeder infrastructure that allows researchers to prepare and analyze samples before and after being shipped for studies at foreign synchrotron facilities
6. Promoting greater involvement of industrial users;
7. Studying the feasibility for constructing a third generation light source;
8. Developing mechanisms to educate the public about the revolutions in science and technology, such as the discovery of new pharmaceuticals, that synchrotrons afford.

The figure appended provides a plot of South Africa’s synchrotron light source usage in terms of the number of users, beam-line shifts, graduate students trained, and visits to synchrotron facilities. The data represent a rough approximation, based on preliminary surveys; however, note that the 2011 data represent only part of the year, since 2011 had not ended by the time of the workshop. According to the data, the number of students trained at foreign facilities has increased from six (6) in 2005 to thirteen (13) in 2011, thus showing a growth in human capital, especially over the past three years. The long 5 distances and substantial travel expenses are major factors that impede the increase in the number of students being trained. A local facility would be most advantageous to address this need.

Synchrotron Usage in South Africa

Among the workshop presentations, two were especially notable, since they involved applications of synchrotron light source techniques to disciplines for which many are not aware. One involved research in paleontology, for which Kristian Carlson from Wits discussed his collaboration with Lee Berger, also from Wits, and Paul Tafforeau from ESRF. Among other things, they perform dating and craniodental investigations of the possible human ancestor, Australopithecus sediba, which is the much-publicized fossil remains that Berger’s nine-year-old son, Matthew, discovered in 2008 while assisting his father in field work. In a presentation involving light source applications to heritage science, Leon “Jake” Jacobson from the McGregor Museum (Kimberly), discussed his applications of light sources to study rock art, namely ancient paintings on stones. He investigates such issues as the composition of the paints and how their interactions with rock substrates contribute to the art’s conservation. There is increasing worldwide interest in the use of synchrotron radiation in art and archaeology.

Finally, it is notable that Esna du Plessis and Bruce Anderson attended the workshop to represent the oil and gas company, Sasol Technology. They reported on their use of synchrotron radiation in pursuing extended X-ray absorption fine structure techniques for the study of H2, CO and synthetic gas activation of nano iron. They also made a strong case for a local source to enable more industrial use of light sources.

In conclusion, the momentum is building rapidly within the South African synchrotron science community. SRRIC, as its representative, is committed to maintaining, and indeed intensifying, that momentum. Based upon the Strategic Plan that summarizes the outputs of the December 2011 workshop, SRRIC is looking forward to a favorable decision from DST/NRF requesting it to proceed to the development of a detailed Business Plan by June 2012 in order to move synchrotron science in South Africa to the next level of international prominence.

January 30, 2012

This article is also published in the Spring 2012 Newsletter of the Forum on International Physics of the American Physical Society.

IAU Office of Astronomy Development Stakeholder’s Workshop – Day 3 December 17, 2011

Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment

by Dr. Jarita Holbrook
Tuesday December 15, 2011

The morning began with two presentations about funding. One was given by Ravi Sheth about International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy; the other by Ernst van Groningen about International Science Programme of Uppsala University, Sweden. Dr. van Groningen’s presentation included a framework much like a spreadsheet of things to think about and include before writing a request for funding that I thought was particularly useful. His talk can be seen at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/19135075 starting at about 15 minutes into the broadcast. The rest of the morning was dedicated to two talks by popular vote: one by Pedru Russo and Valerio Ribeiro about Evaluation Metrics, the other by Carolina Govender about Evaluation & Planning focusing on having evaluation at every step of project planning. The first talk starts at about five minutes into the stream and the second about twenty one minutes into the stream.

The unique activity of the workshop was the Unconference Topics. Over the workshop there was a place for participants to write down topics that they wanted to discuss that they thought were important. Then the participants voted on each topic, those that received the most votes won. There were five popular topics:
1. Citizen Science,
2. Mobile Planetaria,
3. Distance Education,
4. Managing Volunteers, and
5. Evidence for economic development resulting from astronomy.

I joined the last group. After much discussion we determined there were four steps that OAD should take
A. The OAD should host a webpage where links to previous reports can be accessed. For example, it is possible to get actual amounts that governments spend on astronomy, as well as organizations such as NASA in the USA produce annual reports by state of the impact of NASA funding.
B. OAD should analyze the metrics and evaluation methods used in these existing reports and
C. determine if we need to develop new metrics to suit OAD goals or simply use existing ones.
D. OAD should develop a team of people that can then go to astronomy facilities and assess the economic impact of each. Why would such a team be important? As with all forms of evaluation and assessment associated with projects, the funders want to know where their money went and that positive things have come out of their investment. I would like to know who benefits from astronomy dollars and how this breaks down demographically by gender and ethnicity. To do this OAD will have to partner with more than just astronomers.

My thoughts about the workshop are positive. It brought together stakeholders who were primarily interested in
1. Educating the public about astronomy,
2. Attracting young people to become astronomers, and
3. Increasing the number of university level astronomy classes and programs worldwide.

As a result, most of the attendees were astronomers. For the next workshop, I would like to see stakeholders from the towns nearest observatories, from government offices responsible for development, from the United Nations Development Program, and perhaps indigenous rights groups. The point of the workshop was to help shape the breadth and scope of the new Office of Astronomy for Development, it would be interesting to get input from these development stakeholders.

IAU Office of Astronomy Development Stakeholder’s Workshop – Day 2 December 14, 2011

Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment

by Dr. Jarita Holbrook
Tuesday December 14, 2011

The IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) has three established task forces. Tuesday December 13th, the workshop participants were assigned to task forces and met for the morning session. The goal was to brainstorm new ideas at the intersection of astronomy and development, but also to consider how to implement the published OAD Strategic Plan.

In the afternoon we had breakout sessions by regions. The divisions were Africa and the Middle East, Latin America, Asia Pacific, North America, and Europe. In these breakout sessions we were to examine our regional strengths and regional needs. North America consisted of representatives from the United States and Canada. Mexico joined the Latin America group.

As with other places worldwide North America has underserved populations that we would like to help such as First Nations/Native Americans, underrepresented groups, inner city underclass, etc. There were two tiers of needs, the first was to do things that astronomers normally do but reach these underserved communities. That is astronomy education and astronomy outreach, there are already many programs and networks to do these but these need to be extended to these communities. The second need was to consider social justice, cultural awareness, and egalitarian science in the context of astronomy for development.

This area was a fairly new way of thinking for astronomers and specific strategies, methods, actions and activities are left for the future. Unlike other parts of the world, North America is rich in resources including in plain old cash!

There are over 300 volunteers registered through the OAD website, few of these are from North America. Thus, there is a need to recruit volunteers. The North American group did not discuss WHERE an OAD node office should be located instead we focused on the issues discussed above.

OAD Workshop Participants Silvia Torres-Peimbert (Mexico), Postdoc Linda Strubbe (USA), and Graduate Student and NSBP Member Deatrick Foster (USA)

IAU Office of Astronomy Development Stakeholders’ Workshop – Day 1 December 13, 2011

Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment

by Dr. Jarita Holbrook
Tuesday December 13, 2011

The first day was an opportunity for stakeholders to provide quick descriptions of their activities and how they wish to contribute to OAD or make use of OAD. Each person was to have five minutes and two slides. All of the presentations were interesting. What I found informative was the reports from the various divisions within the International Astronomical Union: IAU Commission 46: Education and Building Capacity and IAU Commission 55: Communicating Astronomy with the Public. Both of these have several working groups doing work relevant to OAD. Where the American Astronomical Society is very active regarding the direct needs of research astronomers, these two IAU commissions have been far more active socially beyond the needs of astronomers.

There were several groups focused specifically in Africa: AIMS-Next Einstein, the African Astronomical Society, South African Astronomical Observatory, and there was an artist group doing work in the town closest to the Observatory in Sutherland, South Africa.

I was given two minutes to represent the National Society of Black Physicists. I shared the following:

  • 1. The National Society of Black Physicists is a global professional society based in the United States.

    2. We are active participants in the African Astronomical Society.

    3. We are interested in international scientific collaborations.

    4. We are interested in international exchanges.

    5. We are exploring forming a regional node in the United States. We aren’t the only ones there is also Steward Observatory and the Vatican Observatory.

    6. We have a long-term investment in the development of astronomy in Africa.

    7. We offer our services to help OAD anyway we can.

  • There are three established task forces:

    1. Astronomy for Universities and Research

    2. Astronomy for Children and Schools

    3. Astronomy for the Public

    Today we will be meeting within these task force to brainstorm, keeping in mind the OAD mission: To help further the use of astronomy as a tool for development by mobilizing the human and financial resources necessary in order to realize its scientific, technological and cultural benefits to society. OAD Director Kevin Govender reminds us that astronomy is not the silver bullet to solve all the problems fo the world. We are also to consider the economic impact of our activities.

    Morgan State University Student Spends Summer at CERN July 24, 2011

    Posted by admin in : History, Policy and Education (HPE), Nuclear and Particle Physics (NPP) , add a comment
    Eric Michael Seabron, a junior physics major and Morgan honor student with a 3.66 grade point average was selected to join an exclusive 18-member U.S. physics team for a 10-week summer internship at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland. 
     
    “This internship is one of the most competitive internships an undergraduate student of physics can compete for in the United States.  Mr. Seabron will benefit from this experience by expanding both his knowledge of physics and participating in the greatest scientific experiment ever proposed, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Participation in this internship increases his visibility as a up-and-coming young physicist, and his opportunities for getting into a Tier-1 physics graduate program with schools like Michigan, Harvard, Stanford and Princeton to name a few,” says Dr. Keith Jackson, chair of Morgan’s physics department.

    Mr. Seabron is a member of the University of Michigan’s ATLAS team sponsored by a National Science Foundation research grant for undergraduates to work on a valuable piece of equipment (Large Hadron Collider) on the ATLAS experiment. ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) is one of the six particle detector experiments constructed at the LHC. He and other student colleagues will assist in the commissioning of ATLAS EE detectors, analyze event data to create R-T curves and Muon Spectrometer graphs.

    Since 2009, more than 2900 scientists and engineers from 172 institutions in 37 countries have worked on the ATLAS experiment. 

    The ATLAS experiment’s primary objective is to detect particles created after high-energy proton on proton collisions.  ATLAS will allow us to learn about the basic forces that have shaped our Universe since the beginning of time (if time has a beginning) and that will determine its fate. Research at ATLAS will provide answers to some of the most basic questions in physics such as the origin of mass, proof of existence of multiple dimensions, unification of fundamental forces, and evidence for dark matter candidates in the Universe. ATLAS brings experimental physics into new territory. Most exciting is the completely unknown surprise – new processes and particles that would change our understanding of energy and matter.
     

    “Students who are successful strive to do more than meet the minimum level of academic performance. If they take this attitude toward their undergraduate education they will find a plethora of new experiences, challenges and opportunities waiting for them, like Mr. Seabron,” says Dr. Jackson.  

     

    Eric is standing holding ladder with Michigan teammate Kareem Hegazy (on ladder) in front of 20 ft. battery cells.

    US SKA Consortium votes to dissolve itself in light of decadal survey and budget realities June 15, 2011

    Posted by admin in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), Earth and Planetary Systems Sciences (EPSS), History, Policy and Education (HPE) , add a comment
    At its meeting in Arlington, VA on June 7, the US Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Consortium voted to dissolve itself as of December 31, 2011.  The consortium consists of US universities and research institutes that are studying and prototyping technologies under development for the SKA

    The decision follows from the 2010 astronomy decadal survey, which did not give the SKA a positive funding recommendation.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) has decided to follow that recommendation. As a result the United States will no longer be officially part of the international SKA project.

    But this does not mean that the Americans are not participating in the overall project, in fact the US radioastronomers still remain supportive of it.  There are Americans on the engineering advisory committee.  Also the deputy director of the astronomy division at NSF, Vernon Pankonin, chairs a committee that will be making a site selection recommendation, though officials are quick to point out that his participation is not in his official capacity, and in no way implies the participation of the agency.  Pankonin's committee is set to recommend a site for the SKA, either Australia/New Zeland or Africa, in February 2012. 

    The National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) has been supportive of the African bid, including participation in the recent workshop on the SKA and human capacity development. Later this year, NSBP plans to launch the US-Africa Astronomy and Space Sciences Institute.

    NSBP member, Eric Wilcots, also a member of the US SKA Consortium, feels that the dissolution decision will have little immediate impact on the international project.  "The large part of the US financial involvement was only to materialize in the next decade.  India, China and Canada have joined the effort since the time of the original planning.  Whether or not these countries will participate financially in this decade to the extent that was envisioned for the US is unknown at this point."

    Charles McGruder, also an NSBP and US SKA Consortium member, agrees.  "The SKA is conceived to come together in phases.  Phase 1 will likely proceed in this decade even if the US is not an official participant.  Phase 1 includes epoch of reionization and NANOGRAF (pulsar timing) experiments, which did get postive funding recommendations in the decadal survey."
     
    "Individual American astronomers will undoubtedly stay involved with the SKA through these research projects," adds NRAO's Ken Kellermann, a past chair of the International SKA Science and Engineering Committee.

    This bodes well for the South African effort, Wilcots points out.  The South Africa MeerKAT is much better suited for pulsar timing studies than the Australian ASKAP.   The PAPER experiment was recently deployed in South Africa eventhough it was originally planned to be located in Australia.  Also a US team intending to work with the Murchison Widefield Array, which is under construction in Australia, was recently informed by NSF of the agency's declination of their funding proposal.

    There are efforts to find other sources of funding, public and private, to support the US involvement in the SKA project.  There are intersections between US policy towards the SKA, broader American foreign policy interests, and interest in the diversity of the global scientific workforce.  Some Members of Congress have become interested in the SKA as a mechanism for increased trade with Africa.  Whether or not this leads to an administrative policy directive or congressionally mandated spending remains to be seen.  

    Astronomy Festival in Bangalore, India December 9, 2010

    Posted by admin in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR) , add a comment

    by Dr. Jarita C. Holbrook

    The Bangalore Association for Science Education and the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium have partnered to create the Festival of Astronomy: Kalpaneya Yatre 2010.  November 28 – Dec 7, 2010

    The Bangalore Association for Science Education and the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium partnered to create the Festival of Astronomy. The Festival occupied the buildings and grounds of Nehru Planetarium. The Festival had four main areas filled with different aspects of astronomy. The entrance to the festival was a temporary addition to the main building spectacularly decorated with images of space and nebulae. The structure held a historical overview of astronomy.

    The historical exhibit consisted of posters focused on particular astronomy achievements and early astronomers, there were a few artifacts such as early astronomy instruments, computer screens showing videos, and one end of the area was a big projection screen. The historical content began with Egypt and the astronomy associated with the pyramids and the Sphinx, then ancient Indian cosmologies and cosmograms, and the Nebra Disk and complex from Bronze Age Germany. Stonehenge was the last poster that was focused on a location and general knowledge rather than focused on a particular astronomer. The selection of astronomers presented start with the Greeks Eratosthenes, Aristarchus, Hipparchus, and Ptolemaeus; a nice addition is of Chinese astronomer Wang Zhenyi and the woman astronomer Fatima of Madrid. The Muslim astronomers are Al-Biruni and Ibn Ul Haitham. The astronomer timeline followed the standard Copernicus-Tycho-Kepler-Gallileo trajectory with the interjection of Somayaji. The trajectory eventually reached Einstein, but before reaching him there is a series of posters dedicated to women astronomers: Caroline Hershel, Anne Jump Cannon, and Maria Mitchell. Jai Sing II, the Jantur Mantar observatory, and the Madras Observatory mark the last mention of non-European astronomers and locations. The remaining posters focused on Newton, Einstein, Eddington, and Hubble, and one more woman astronomer: Cecilia Payne. It is clear that a lot of thought went in to including women astronomers and non-European sites and astronomers.  Each poster clearly revealed what each astronomer discovered that advanced our understanding of the Universe. Where was Chandrasekhar? In the next part of the exhibit: the main building.

    The exhibits in the main building focused on our solar system. There were two models of the solar system, a demonstration of planetary motion, a demonstration of the weather bands of gaseous planets such as those found on Jupiter, models of asteroids, and a 3-D image of the Sun’s surface for viewing with red-blue 3D glasses. Chandrasekhar was found in the solar section where there is information about stellar birth and stellar death. There was a slide show that includes some of the Hubble’s greatest images including interacting galaxies, Einstein arcs, and of course beautiful star formation regions.

    The third area was the favorite of my children: a free standing white tent that was filled with science demonstrations related to astronomy! The children were able to touch and explore the demonstrations with the help of the docents who were also school children. There were about twenty demonstrations including four telescopes that had their covers off to show the optics of refracting telescopes and the mirrors of the reflecting telescopes. Noteworthy were the demonstrations showing the detection of non-visible wavelengths of light: there were demonstrations for ultraviolet, infrared, and fluorescent light. Having recently given an introductory astronomy test where my students got the question on the relationship between distance and flux wrong; the three demonstrations on measuring flux, measuring the maximum intensity of the solar spectrum, and changes in brightness were well done. My personal favorite was a demonstration showing the ring-around-the sun effect using glass beads. The biggest crowds were in this area and it is the one area where my children wanted to return again and again.

    The final area was an sunny yellow and red tent that was open for children to sit and listen to lectures on astronomy. A lecture on solar astronomy was taking place during my visit.

    The Astronomy Festival had enough variety to keep everyone happy: a hall for those interested in the history of astronomy, another for the solar system, hands-on demonstrations of the physics related to astronomy, and live lectures with people knowledgeable about astronomy. If all this is not enough, there were planetarium shows on a variety of astronomy topics every few hours. What was unique is that the docents were school children who were very well trained in explaining the science behind the experiments. It is a great idea to have children teaching children!

    Life in the Margins November 19, 2010

    Posted by ASTRO Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), History, Policy and Education (HPE) , add a comment

    by Dr. Jarita C. Holbrook

    This week I have been writing my annual report to the National Science Foundation on the Astronomy Networks project.  Since I moved into cultural astronomy, I have lived the life of an interdisciplinary scholar in the margins.  My behavior and choices are consistent with the research findings I discussed last week: women and minorities tend to find success at the margins of STEM disciplines rather than in the mainstream.  Life in the margins is not bad: I exercise my intellectual freedom, I have a positive international research reputation, and I have been attracting great students.  When I moved into cultural astronomy from the way other academics responded to me (somewhat condescendingly), I determined that I had to get external funding to be taken seriously.  Simply put, it is fine to do interesting research in unestablished areas between disciplinary boundaries, but getting external funding is the official seal of approval.  Many scholars have had the good fortune of having their place in the margins be moved to the center, for example Jeff Marcy and his planet finding projects.

    I am co-PI with Sharon Traweek (UCLA) on an NSF funded project that studies women and minority astronomers and their professional networks.  We are studying how they get involved in big database driven astronomy projects that are mainstream and where they chose to make a contribution.  Are they central or on the margins? Where do they perceive themselves to be and do others agree?

    For my part of the project, I have been focusing on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (www.lsst.org).  The LSST has not been built.  It is estimated to be completed in 2012.  LSST when it is finished will break all the rules of big telescope construction, management, computing, and collaboration.  There will be no proprietary data, that is anyone and everyone can access the data soon after the observations.  Of course, having an internet connection and enough memory to handle the large images are necessary.

    I have been involved in the International Astronomical Union’s new Astronomy for Development initiative.  Projects such as LSST will present a great opportunity for astrophysicists outside of Europe and North America to work with the best data available.  The catch is that they have to learn how to work with LSST data now, in order to be ready when the real data starts flowing.  International scientists need to get networked into LSST now! The LSST team has created a simulator that can be used to simulate what the data will look like.  The simulated data can be used to test if certain astrophysical questions are feasible given the physical parameters of the LSST and the data it will produce.  As with all aspects of the LSST project, the simulator is freely available.  LSST is the type of project that I can admire.

    I’m involved in the formation of the African Astronomical Society.  At the upcoming IAU Symposium “Tracing the Ancestry of Galaxies – on the Land of our Ancestors” in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, this December, the first meeting of the working group will take place.  I secretly hope that they will go ahead and announce the formation of the Society there.  If not an official announcement will take place at MEARIM2 – the second Middle-East and Africa Regional IAU Meeting in South Africa in April 2011.  The newly formed Society should work to make sure that African astrophysicists get involved in LSST.  Unfortunately, because I am in India I will not go to Burkina Faso.

    The Astronomer Networks project is also an oral history project, so our interviews are tape recorded and will be edited for an online archive.  I have interviewed a dozen astronomers thus far, but this is far too few to draw any grand conclusions.  The graduate students and postdocs on the project have collectively interviewed a dozen more, still not enough data.  However, we are on our way and have discovered some interesting results that may change as we collect more interviews.  What I find most significant about the oral history part of the project is that most oral histories of astronomers focus on the old and famous.  Few include the young and becoming astronomers at a stage in their careers where they have committed to being part of a project that may or may not be spectacular.  Even fewer include self-identified minority astronomers, though many include a smattering of women.

    In a reflexive loop, I am in the disciplinary margins studying astronomers in the margins after having been an astronomer not so in the margins.

    I’m now in Bangalore, India, visiting the Raman Research Institute (www.rri.res.in).  Next week begins a ten day festival focused on astronomy at the local planetarium.  I plan to write an article about the festival for one of the popular astronomy magazines.

    NSBP and SAIP Members on LHC Lead-Lead Collisions November 16, 2010

    Posted by ASTRO Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), Mathematical and Computational Physics (MCP) , 2comments

    LHC Achieves Heavy Ion Collisions
    On Sunday November 7 at 1 am local time the first heavy ion collisions were observed in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland.  By the following Monday morning the heavy ion beam was stably producing a steady stream of collisions such that the physics analysis could start in earnest.  By the end of the week a sufficient number of events had been observed to reach the first conclusions.

    Witnessing this historic event was Dr. Zinhle Buthelezi from South Africa’s iThemba LABS who was on duty in the control room of the ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) detector at the time of the first collisions.  Other members of the iThemba LABS team, Deon Steyn, Siegie Foertsch, and Zeblon Vilakazi, as well as the team from the University of Cape Town led by Jean Cleymans have also been participating in the ALICE experiment.  More

    ALICE, Quark-Gluon Plasmas and the Origin of the Universe
    The goal of ALICE is to observe the so-called Quark Gluon Plasma (QGP).  This plasma is partially analogous to the more well-known electronic plasma that results when a gas is so hot that its electrons are liberated from their atomic nuclei.  Like electrons are constituents of atoms, quarks and gluons are constituents of nucleons – protons and neutrons.  They can likewise be “deconfined” from nucleons at high energy densities like those that existed at the very moment of the Big Bang, or can be reproduced in high energy accelerators like the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) or the LHC.  Thus the results gained from ALICE and RHIC give insights into the state of energy and matter in the first microseconds of the universe, before condensation into neutrons, protons, and subsequently atoms.   More

    NSBP Members Clifford Johnson and Stephon Alexander on the ALICE collisions
    Experimental Excitement
    ALICE – A Cosmologist’s Point of View

    Theoretical physicists have studied QGPs using a variety of techniques.  Perhaps the most successful method is due to Dr. Juan Maldacena, a plenary speaker at the 2005 Joint Annual Conference of the National Society of Black Physicists and the National Society of Hispanic Physicists.  The so-called “AdS/CFT correspondence” relates string theory to gauge theories like quantum chromodynamics (QCD) which describes the interactions between quarks and gluons. Professor Jim Gates has commented, “So, the next time someone tells you that string theory is not testable, remind them of the AdS/CFT connection…”  Since then experimental, observational, and theoretical evidence has expanded from particle theory to condensed matter physics.

    South African Participation at CERN
    In addition to the ALICE experiment, South African physicists are participates in the ATLAS experiment.  Dr. Simon Connell, President-elect of the South African Institute of Physics leads the ATLAS Team at the University of Johannesburg.  “ATLAS is designed to answer some of the most fundamental questions about the nature of the universe, like how and why particles have mass,” he explains.

    This past summer South Africa hosted the first biennial African school on fundamental subatomic physics and its applications. More

    2010 African Physics School

    Courtesy of Brookhaven National Lab

    South African participation in particle physics brings many benefits to the country and continent, most notably in information and computing technology (ICT).  SANReN, the grid computing network that allows physicists in South Africa to receive results from the LHC is used by many others in science and business, and this network will by design be extended to everyday consumers and learners.  More

    Two NSBP Members Win Major Awards September 2, 2009

    Posted by admin in : Condensed Matter and Materials Physics (CMMP), History, Policy and Education (HPE) , add a comment
    Professor Adrienne Stiff-Roberts wins Presidential Early Career Award

    Dr. Adrienne Stiff-Roberts was recently awarded one of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

    The PECASE awards were commissioned by President Clinton to
    honor and support the extraordinary achievements of young scientists and engineers at the outset of their independent research careers. These Presidential awards are the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on outstanding scientists and engineers just beginning their independent careers.

    Dr. Stiff-Roberts is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke University. Her research involves the design, fabrication, and characterization of opto-electronic/photonic devices, particularly those in the infrared spectrum.  She also does research on multifunctional sensors featuring hybrid nanomaterials.

    She is a graduate of Spelman College and the University of Michigan.
    Professor Nadya Mason wins Denise Denton Award

    Dr. Nadya Mason is the 2009 winner of the Denise Denton Emerging Leader Award.   Dr. Mason is currently and assistant professor of physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.   She is co-chair of the NSBP Condensed Matter and Materials Physics Section.

    Given by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI),  the Denice Denton Emerging Leader Award is given each year to a junior non-tenured faculty member under the age of 40 at an academic or research institution pursuing high-quality research in any field of engineering or physical sciences while contributing significantly to promoting diversity in his/her environment.  The Denice Denton Award is underwritten by Microsoft.

    Dr. Mason’s research focuses on electron behavior in low-dimensional, correlated materials, where enhanced novel interactions are expected to give novel results.  She is particularly interested in the effect of reduced dimensionality and correlations on electron coherence, and uses novel fabrication techniques to study quantum properties of carbon nanotubes, quantum dots and wires.   She has several publications in top-flight journals including Nature, Science and Physical Review Letters.

    In addition to her research, Dr. Mason is a spokesperson for increasing diversity in physics and for creating a climate in academia that embraces and supports minorities and women.

    She is a graduate of Harvard University and Stanford University.