International grant to take Oswego professor to Brazil

Shashi KanburDr. Shashi Kanbur, an assistant professor of physics at SUNY Oswego, has received the 2006 Chretien International Research Grant from the American Astronomical Society to carry out collaborative research with colleagues in Brazil.

“It’s an international competition judged by an international group of astronomers, so I was pretty happy to get it,” Kanbur said. “Quite a few (past recipients) are now well-known astronomers.”

The grant program is designed to further international collaborative projects in observational astronomy and emphasizes long-term visits and the development of close working relationships with astronomers in other countries, according to the AAS Web site. Last year’s recipient was from Uzbekistan and collaborated with a colleague in Germany.

Kanbur’s grant is for three years of collaboration with three astronomers at the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil: Antonio Kanaan, Raymundo Baptista and Cid Fernandez.

Kanbur, whose wife is from Brazil, had visited the Federal University of Santa Catarina before. “In July 2005, I gave a seminar there, and we talked about possible collaborative projects,” he said.

The Chretien-funded project will involve observations of stars in two galaxies, Cepheid variable stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud and white dwarfs in the Milky Way.

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.

Kanbur said he plans to visit Brazil for one month each year, during the summer or winter break. The Federal University of Santa Catarina is in Florianopolis on the island of Santa Catarina—“one of the most beautiful places on earth,” Kanbur noted—but part of the project will be to automate a telescope at the Brazilian National Telescope facility inland in Minas Gerais.

He will be able to fund some undergraduates from Santa Catarina to participate in observations.

Back in Oswego, he said he expects to involve computer science students in the software engineering needed to automate the Brazilian telescope, and physics students can work on analyzing the astrophysical data gathered from infrared observations of Cepheid variables.

“It will help my teaching because I’ll be able to use the data sets we develop in my courses,” he said.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Brazil bound—Dr. Shashi Kanbur of SUNY Oswego’s physics department will work with three scientists in Brazil on observational astronomy projects under a new three-year grant from the American Astronomical Society. The pulsating Cepheid stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud, the galaxy depicted on his screen, will be one focus of their work.

(Posted: Nov 29, 2006)