NSF grant advances student research in Brazil

Shashi KanburUnder a $132,346 grant from the National Science Foundation’s program for developing global scientists, Dr. Shashi Kanbur of SUNY Oswego’s physics department will take a group of upstate physics and computer science students to Brazil this summer.

His project, “Classical Cepheid Observation with a Brazilian Robotic Telescope,” will continue work he has done the past two summers, partly through a prestigious three-year grant from the American Astronomical Society.

Kanbur and his team of six undergraduates will collaborate with astronomers, engineers, computer scientists, faculty and students at the Federal University of Santa Catarina and the Brazilian Laboratory of Astrophysics. Two of the six physics and computer science students from New York are from SUNY Oswego, with three from the University of Rochester and one from Syracuse University.

Much of the work this summer will be software development to finish roboticizing the 40-centimeter telescope at Minas Gerais in Brazil, Kanbur said. They need to complete work that will ensure the observatory’s dome and telescope move in sync as the observatory collects raw data in a series of observations and then calibrates the data.

In the fall the team will be able to use the telescope remotely when they are back on their campuses. Their observations will involve time-variable astronomical phenomena including Cepheid stars and white dwarfs.

Cepheids, the subject of Kanbur’s ongoing research, are pulsating stars that are used as distance calculators in the universe. Gauging astronomical distances is key to determining both the size and age of the universe.

The project “is eminently tractable to undergraduates,” Kanbur wrote in his grant proposal, calling it “an excellent way to train undergraduates in transferable skills in numerical analysis, statistics, scientific computing, research methodology and astrophysics and engage them in cutting-edge, publishable research which will be an important cog in increasing our understanding and use of the extra-galactic distance scale.”

Before the group leaves for six weeks in Brazil beginning in July, the students will spend three weeks on the Oswego campus polishing up on their astrophysical knowledge, and also taking classes in introductory Portuguese and learning about Brazilian history and culture from Dr. Tracy Lewis of Oswego’s modern languages department.

“It’s an all-around educational experience for the students,” Kanbur said. “They’ll be living and working in a country which is very different to the U.S. Plus, the research experience will be useful to them in their future careers.”

He has publicized the program in colleges and universities across Upstate New York to attract undergraduates in physics, mathematics, computer science and engineering. 

One of his selling points is the white sandy beaches of the island of Santa Catarina. The group will spend about five weeks at the university there and one week in Minas Gerais in Brazil’s mountainous interior. For more information, see www.oswego.edu/~kanbur/IRES.html.

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(Posted: Apr 30, 2008)

Tags: research news: faculty student collaborations