Ithaca College Quarterly 2005/1
The East Hill Connection

 

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RESEARCH
Astral Alliances


IC's Luke Keller with his Cornell colleague, astronomer Terry Herte
 

Perhaps the most high-visibility collaborative research projects between South Hill and East Hill are among astronomers. IC physics department chair Dan Briotta is working with CU's Gordon Stacey, analyzing data from 1995 taken on the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, a retrofitted Lockheed C-141 that was the predecessor of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). "Right now I'm studying the infrared emission from 30 Doradus, a giant star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud," Briotta says, "and although I don't know yet what other astronomical objects Gordon and the group have observed, there will be several more projects coming out of the data from the Kuiper." Briotta earned his astronomy degrees from Cornell -- an M.S. in 1973 and a Ph.D. in 1976.

Luke Keller was a postdoctoral research associate at Cornell from 1999 until 2003, when he became a full-time IC physics faculty member. With colleagues at CU, he is currently building an infrared digital camera for the NASA project SOFIA, a Boeing 747 with a telescope mounted in the fuselage. "I designed the optical system and data analysis software," Keller says, "which will allow us to view and analyze a variety of objects, like stars forming in other galaxies as well as disks of gas and dust that are orbiting stars -- in which planets may be forming." Keller also collaborates with scientists from Cornell and other institutions using the NASA Spitzer space telescope to study the formation of planets around distant stars. If that weren't enough, he serves on the Ph.D. dissertation committee for a student at Cornell's Center for Radiophysics and Space Research.

Beth Ellen Clark Joseph was also a postdoctoral research associate at Cornell, from 1996 until she signed on at IC in 2001. During that time she received a grant for an asteroid spacecraft mission run by the Japanese space agency, JAXA. The project, known as MUSES-C, continues, and she is still deeply involved. "My role," says Clark Joseph, "is as a team member on the orbiter Near-Infrared Spectrometer. The spectrometer measures the reflected light spectrum of the asteroid, allowing us to study the mineralogy of the asteroid. We're most interested in relating what we learn from close-up study of the asteroid to what we know from laboratory -- very close-up -- study of meteorites." Clark Joseph is also talking with astronomers at CU about publishing taped interviews with Tommy Gold, a well-respected CU astronomer who died last year. "Tommy started the astronomy department at Cornell," Clark Joseph says. "I would call this a 'history of astronomy' project." The project is not yet funded, but she hopes to find time to launch it soon.

The three IC professors believe they have the best of all possible worlds. "I love teaching because I enjoy that 'Aha!' moment when a student grasps a difficult concept," says Clark Joseph. "I also relish the research world because no matter how many observations we make, and no matter how many puzzles we solve, there are still more interesting questions immediately following." Keller adds, "We offer a wide range of research opportunities to our undergraduate students. Having access to Cornell's scientists and resources allows us to work in the forefront of astrophysical research while still placing the majority of our energy and emphasis on teaching. It's really a wonderful combination of the university and small college environments."

Chris Hillman -- Cornell University Photography

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