The University of Utah
Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Utah

U Re-enlists with Astronomy Project

University of Utah astronomers will participate in a six-year project to study the formation of our Milky Way galaxy; map stars, gas and supermassive black holes in 10,000 neighbor galaxies; and chart 1 million galaxies and quasars to learn about mysterious “dark energy” that makes the universe expand.

Five years after joining the third phase of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, or SDSS-III, Utah’s largest research university is signing up for the fourth phase of the international effort to map the heavens – thanks to a $350,000 “challenge grant” from the Willard L. Eccles Charitable Foundation and a matching $350,000 from the university.

The sky survey’s first phase began in 2000. The University of Utah joined the six-year third phase in 2008 with a $450,000 donation from the Eccles foundation and university match. SDSS-IV begins in July 2014 and will operate until mid-2020.

Membership in the Sloan survey’s fourth phase is “a critical extension and expansion of the success achieved by the U’s astronomy program as a participant in SDSS-III,” says Michael Hardman, interim senior vice president for academic affairs.

“We are eager to continue our support for astronomy at the University of Utah,” says Stephen Eccles Denkers, executive director of the Willard L. Eccles Charitable Foundation.

Denkers noted that his family foundation’s support for University of Utah participation in the Sloan survey’s third phase “has been a key pillar of the establishment of the astronomy program at the university, and has led to multiple, high-profile results in research, education, outreach and external funding.”

Indeed, the university’s $900,000 participation since 2008 in the third Sloan survey attracted another $1.7 million in grants for faculty members doing research for the survey, says Dave Kieda, chair of physics and astronomy.

Adam Bolton and Kyle Dawson – both assistant professors of physics and astronomy – will serve as the U’s lead scientists in the fourth Sloan survey.

More than 30 research institutions will participate in SDSS-IV. The Sloan surveys use the 2.5-meter-diameter telescope at Apache Point Observatory at Sunspot, N.M.

That telescope “is the world’s most powerful facility for observing large volumes of space with the technique of spectroscopy,” Bolton says. “This technique breaks the light from stars and galaxies into its component wavelengths, allowing scientists to measure unique signatures of their orbital motions and chemical ingredients.”
The University of Utah signed and finalized a memorandum of understanding June 18 with the Seattle-based Astrophysical Research Consortium, which operates the Sloan surveys and hopes to raise $59 million for the survey’s fourth phase.

The consortium normally would charge the university $1.05 million to buy into SDSS-IV, but the price was reduced to $700,000 if the university fronted the full amount by June 30, which it did. The Eccles foundation will pay its $350,000 share to the university in installments of $120,000 this year and 2014, and $110,000 in 2015.

The university’s Center for High Performance Computing will host a massive archive of data collected by the fourth Sloan survey.

Read the full press release here.


Prof. Shanti Deemyad Receives Award From Utah Research Foundation

Prof. Shanti Deemyad has received a research award from the Utah Research Foundation for her proposal "Formation of hydrocarbons at extreme pressures". The research will focus on isotope effect in abiotic process's in transformation of hydrocarbons at extreme pressures and will search for theoretically predicted transformation of Benzene to graphane (hydrogenated graphite).


James S. Ball (1934-2013)

Jim Ball

Prof. Jim Ball (Emeritus) passed away peacefully on Monday evening, July 29, 2013. Jim received his undergraduate degree from Caltech in 1956 and his Ph.D from UC Berkeley in 1960. After a postdoctoral appointment at UCSD and a professorship at UCLA , Jim joined the Physics Department at the University of Utah in 1968 as an associate professor, and was promoted to the rank of Full professor in 1972.

Jim worked in the field of theoretical particle physics with an emphasis on understanding of the strong interactions, and reconciling theoretical models of the strong interaction with experimental observations at accelerators. In recognition of this work, Jim as an A.P. Sloan Fellow in the 1960’s. Jim was also elected Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1995 in recognition of his pioneering work in the theory of the strong force. Jim retired from the department in 1997 and spent a good deal of his retirement with his wife Janet a beautiful mountain home he built near Torrey, Utah.

Jim was an active force in the growth of the size and scope of the Department in the 1970’s through the late-1990’s, and successfully helped to grow the national prominence of the Department through many initiatives. He served as associate department chair He worked with Prof. Gene Loh and several other faculty members on the State of Utah bid to build the DOE Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) near the Cedar/Grassy Mountains in Western Utah’s Salt Lake Desert. He led the 1987 APS Division of Particles and Fields (DPF) meeting in Salt Lake City in January 1987, and established a long term friendship with the Aspen Center for Physics and with particle theorist David Schramm (U Chicago), who used to visit the department every winter for several weeks of collaboration and skiing. Jim was an avid skier and many people spent some wonderful weekends together with him and his colleagues on the slopes of the Wasatch Front.

His obituary is available here.



Al Larsen (1938-2013)

Al Larsen

Alan Boyd Larsen, a key technician in the early days of the department's Cosmic Ray research group (Fly's Eye, HiRes Fly's Eye, and Casa-MIA-Dice-Blanca arrays), passed away July 22, 2013, the day after his birthday. He was 75 years old. The department extends its deepest sympathies to Al's family. Many of the successes of the Fly's Eye research directly derived from Al's hard work and innovation. He was known as a very kind person with a sharp wit and a positive attitude that kept things moving forward even when confronted with gigantic challenges. Al will be greatly missed.

The family will receive guests in Richfield, Utah. Funeral services will be held on Friday, July 26, 2013 at 11:00 a.m. in the Annabella 1st Ward Chapel.

His obituary is available here.


Wave At Saturn Event

Dr. Tabitha Buehler & Dr. Ben Bromley

Come be a part of human history! Wave at Saturn as the NASA Cassini probe takes our photo!

There will be telescopes, lectures, and hands-on activities for the whole family!

Free event open to the public.

Location: Natural History Museum of Utah at the University of Utah
View Map

Date: Friday, July 19, 2013, 2:00 - 4:00pm (photo at 3:27pm)

From JPL's website:

"One of the most exciting Cassini events in 2013 will be the unusual opportunity on July 19 to image the whole Saturn system as it is backlit by the sun. With Saturn covering the harsh light of the sun, we will be gathering unique ring science and also catching a glimpse of our very own home planet.

The main science goal for the mosaic we are making of the Saturn system is to look at the more diffuse rings that encircle Saturn and check for change over time. A previous mosaic of the Saturn system Cassini made in 2006 revealed that the dusty E ring, which is fed by the water-ice plume of the moon Enceladus, had unexpectedly large variations in brightness and color around its orbit. We'll want to see how that looks seven Earth years and a Saturnian season later, giving us clues to the forces at work in the Saturn system. We'll do this analysis by collecting data from our visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, composite infrared mapping spectrometer and ultraviolet imaging spectrograph in addition to the imaging cameras."

Learn more here.


University of Utah Names Physics Chairman Dean for Graduate School

June 4, 2013 – The Office of Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Utah announced that David Kieda has been selected to be the new dean of the Graduate School. He replaces Charles A. Wight, who left in 2012 to become the president of Weber State University.

As professor and current chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the U, Kieda has worked closely with faculty and administrators to establish and expand the astronomy program. He helped set up both a public observatory on campus and a high-altitude research telescope in southern Utah.

“Professor Kieda has shown tremendous leadership skills through his research programs and administrative accomplishments,” said Michael Hardman, interim senior vice president for Academic Affairs “He has successfully led graduate students in rigorous disciplines and has effectively managed major academic ventures. I am confident he will serve the Graduate School with professionalism and integrity.”

Read the announcement here.


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