A record of astronomical research accomplishments and providing stellar opportunities for students have earned SUNY Oswego’s Shashi Kanbur the rank of Distinguished Professor from SUNY.

For decades, Kanbur has studied the age and size of the universe through measuring pulsating stars –- an endeavor that has created connections with scholars across the globe and propelled many Oswego student researchers to success.

Nominator and research collaborator Sukanta Deb, who teaches physics at the University of Cotton in Guwahati, India, called Kanbur “an outstanding Astrophysicist of international repute” who “has made a remarkable contribution in understanding the pulsational properties and physics of radially pulsating stars.” 

“One of the wonderful things about Shashi is that he has always motivated the undergraduate students of SUNY Oswego as well as outside students to do research and provided them with many opportunities to carry out research activities in Astronomy and Astrophysics,” Deb wrote. “The outcome of this effort is marvelous!” 

“Dr. Kanbur represents some of the finest characteristics necessary for this professorship,” Scott Furlong, SUNY Oswego’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, wrote in a recommendation for the award. “His dedication and commitment to his students and to their success is a model for all to follow.”

Furlong noted that, at the time of nomination, Kanbur had published 78 peer-reviewed articles (51 as an Oswego professor), with 13 of them featuring Oswego student co-authors numbering 19 student researchers. 

Astronomical research

Most of this work involves using galactic markers such as Cepheids and RR Lyrae -- period-variable stars whose pulsation allow an estimate of their distance from Earth -- to provide research on the extra-galactic distance scale and studies that explore theories of how the Milky Way Galaxy formed.

“This twenty-five year project has extensively involved Oswego undergraduates in the last 10 years,” Mohammad Islam, chair and associate professor of physics, wrote. “The outcome of this project was forty-seven papers in high impact factor journals that Prof. Kanbur and his co-authors –- including many SUNY Oswego undergraduates –- have published over the last 10 years.”

“His keen interest and dedication for his subject has helped him earn worldwide recognition,” Deb noted. “This becomes evident by looking at the number of research projects undertaken and research papers published which include collaborators from many international reputed institutes/universities across the globe including Cotton University (Guwahati), University of Delhi (Delhi) and Indian Institute of Astrophysics (Bangalore) in India, to name a few.”

“He has brought in approximately $1.7 million in external funds to SUNY Oswego in a mix of initiatives focused on his area of scholarship and on undergraduate STEM education,” wrote Kristin Croyle, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Dr. Kanbur’s level of scholarship and productivity is particularly notable considering that, throughout this time, he has remained committed to the undergraduate-focused mission of SUNY Oswego, teaching 3 or 4 courses a semester, mentoring students, developing research opportunities for them around the world, and significantly contributing through departmental and institutional faculty service (including 6 years as department chair),” Croyle said.

“Dr. Kanbur uses his enthusiasm for stellar pulsation to challenge his students, to encourage them to engage in challenging research, and to continue to energize the field through new ideas and new energy,” Croyle noted. “While at SUNY Oswego, Dr. Kanbur has mentored over 50 students in research in astrophysics including several who have progressed to Ph.D.s, postdoctoral fellowships and leading industry positions. ... His scholarship is not only strengthening the field of astrophysics through new contributions, but is also building the strength of the field through encouragement and mentoring of promising new scholars.”

Engaging students

Those students include Daniel Wysocki, a 2015 SUNY Oswego graduate who credits Kanbur with convincing him to attend Oswego, and went on to earn a Ph.D. and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. 

“Since I have known him, he has continuously mentored a large and international group of students on research projects,” Wysocki wrote. “SUNY Oswego is an excellent university for an aspiring astrophysicist, largely thanks to Dr. Kanbur’s work. He has built and sustained a very rich environment for student research.”

Wysocki noted tremendous” life-shaping research opportunities abroad,” including in Taiwan and India, that paved the way toward working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and currently playing a key role in data analysis from LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) gravitational wave detectors. 

“In all that time, I have not met a scientist more devoted to their subject,” Wysocki said. “Stellar pulsation is not a flashy subject with abundant government grants. It is, however, essential to measuring the scale of the Universe. Dr. Kanbur has mastered this subject both from a theoretical and empirical perspective, and has made key contributions to the field, which will be cited for decades to come.”

Another successful former student praising Kanbur is Earl Bellinger, who will start as a lecturer at Yale University in January 2024 after several years as a postdoctoral researcher at the Stellar Astrophysics Centre in Denmark and at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany. 

“My first project with Shashi was on automating a robotic telescope that operates at the National Laboratory for Astrophysics in Brazil. The project culminated in Shashi bringing me and numerous other students to that laboratory over a summer to complete our work,” Bellinger recalled, noting Kanbur provided opportunities to travel to Spain as well. 

‘The impact of those experiences were transformative for me,” Bellinger said. “Experiencing new cultures and also getting to participate in cutting-edge international research profoundly influenced the path I decided to take in life. Thanks to Shashi's guidance, I have completed a Ph.D., am now a postdoctoral research fellow and have worked in a dozen research laboratories across six different countries.”

Describing Kanbur as “unequivocally one of the best professors I have ever had,” Bellinger added: “Shashi has an amazing spirit toward scientific research. He is extremely supportive of his students and provides them every possible opportunity. … It is not an exaggeration to say that I would not be in my position today if not for Shashi's guidance and support.”

Global support

In addition to stories from numerous students positively impacted by Kanbur’s passion, teaching ability and mentorship, letters of support for Kanbur’s award spanned the globe, coming from institutions and research institutes from Australia, Chile, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Scotland, Taiwan and several U.S. universities and the corporate world. 

While directing Oswego’s Global Laboratory program, Kanbur helped facilitate summer internships for more than 200 students in Taiwan, Brazil, Europe, India and Africa. In addition, Kanbur has mentored Ph.D. students in India and supported studies of scholars around the world who share his passion for exploring the secrets of the universe.

Also remarkable is Kanbur’s pursuit of another passion –- learning to play jazz saxophone, as “at the height of his professional career, Shashi chose to become a beginner again,” wrote music professor Eric Schmitz, who noted the enthusiasm he brought to performing in the Oswego State Jazz Ensemble, and later to performing around the region and even internationally.

“I welcomed his participation and was delighted at his willingness to continue learning along with the other students in the ensemble,” Schmitz recalled. “This provided an ideal example of ‘life-long learning’ and the message was not lost on the students.”

Kanbur earned his Ph.D. in astrophysics, as well as his bachelor’s in mathematics and astronomy, from the University of London. Between those degrees, Kanbur received a master’s in mathematical statistics from Stanford University and a diploma of mathematical statistics from the University of Cambridge.

Kanbur, who has previously earned the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities, particularly wanted to thank his wife Cleane Medeiros –- a biological sciences faculty member and academic success advisor –- for her sacrifices along the way to support his work. He also noted the early example of his aunt Vatsala Mukherjee, a professor of economics who inspired him to get into the academic world.