Oswego, research partners reach for the stars in India

SUNY Oswego has teamed with universities in the United States and India to win a competitive grant to cooperate on analysis of stars that inform the size-scale of the universe.

Danielle Citro and Shashi KanburDr. Shashi Kanbur, professor of physics at Oswego and principal investigator for the grant, said approximately $100,000 in travel funds will help establish the Indo-U.S. Knowledge R&D Joint Networked Center for the Analysis of Variable Star Data.

The other partners for the new center are Texas A&M University, University of Florida, University of Delhi and Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India. Kanbur said the partners are all top research institutions in this field.

“It’s the fruition, the culmination of many things I do,” Kanbur said. “It’s related to my research, it can involve undergraduates. It was a very competitive process. ... It puts SUNY Oswego in a fantastic place.”

The grant comes from the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum in New Delhi, established in 2000 to promote collaborative science, technology, engineering and biomedical research.

While the University of Delhi administers the funds, Kanbur said the grant would put Oswego at the forefront of the effort to analyze vast amounts of high-quality data from NASA’s Kepler satellite and other space missions, ground-based observations from a new telescope in Antarctica and perhaps the Gaia satellite mission of the European Space Agency planned for fall.

The new collaboration “opens lots of doors for us and presents strong opportunities for other grants,” Kanbur said. “Our students will be involved in this project. They’ll be working with students from University of Delhi, IUCAA in Pune, Texas A&M and Florida.”

Stellar opportunities

Researchers from those institutions have been very active in this field of astrophysics for years, Kanbur said. They have specific, measurable goals for the new Indo-U.S. center, among them modifying and developing statistical methods such as Principal Component Analysis to study variable stars’ light curves “in exquisite detail,” he explained.

“The principal way the grant will help is through the development of these statistical methods to analyze the structure of variable star light curves, and try to extract fundamental parameters such as mass, effective temperature, luminosity, metallicity of these stars,” Kanbur said “It will be applicable to prominent space missions such as Kepler and Gaia.”

SUNY Oswego undergraduates under the mentorship of Kanbur and other astrophysicists have advanced the research on pulsations of variable stars such as Cepheids and RR Lyrae, the regularity of which helps scientists calculate distances to other galaxies, informing the scale of the cosmos.

The new grant promises development of short courses, lectures, seminars and, given additional funding, travel/research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students of the partner universities. Kanbur earlier won a $4,000 travel grant from the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum and the American Physical Society to assist with research- and curriculum-related trips to India.

Antarctic telescope

Through Oswego’s Global Laboratory program, students have visited Brazil, Taiwan and Switzerland to participate in such studies, and Kanbur said he intends to involve undergraduates in opportunities in India as well.

Kanbur expressed excitement at the opportunity for future collaborations with faculty such as statistician Ampalavanar Nanthakumar of Oswego’s mathematics department, as well as Oswego students potentially working with data from a robotic telescope in Antarctica installed last year by Texas A&M and partners in China and Australia.

“The telescope there is going to be observing these stars for a long period of time that’s just not possible from other locations on Earth,” Kanbur said. “It’s a six-month night, so the telescope can be observing these stars without a break.”

Kepler, launched in March 2009, aims at a large patch of star-rich sky in the area around the Cygnus and Lyra constellations. Kanbur said the mission generates large quantities of data that are accurate to extremely fine tolerances.

PHOTO CAPTION: Star track—SUNY Oswego professor Dr. Shashi Kanbur (right) frequently works with undergraduates such as Danielle Citro on variable-star research for conference presentations and publications. Engaging students from Oswego, Texas A&M, Florida, University of Delhi and Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India, is one goal of an upcoming project to establish a center for the study of variable stars’ light curves in Delhi.

(Posted: Feb 15, 2013)

Tags: world awareness, student research, shashi kanbur, physics, astronomy