Awards Database

Cottrell College Science Awards - 2015

Desika Narayanan

Haverford College

Forming the Most Luminous Galaxies in the Universe

So-called “starburst” galaxies, are known for their prolific ability to create new stars. A particular class of starburst galaxies discovered in 1998, known as “submillimeter galaxies”  (SMG) for their copious luminosity in the far-infrared range (the terahertz range just below microwave radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum), churn out a factor 500 to 1,500 more stars per year than our own Milky Way.

The problem is, astronomers don’t yet understand precisely how these starburst galaxies, denizens of the early universe, actually work.

Desika Narayanan, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Haverford College, has received a Cottrell College Science Award (CCSA) from Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) to develop the first “cosmological hydrodynamic model” for “high-z” (that is, deeply red-shifted) SMG formation with bona fide “radiative transfer.”

Basically this means Narayanan will be developing computer programs to model the behavior of stars, galaxies and the dust and gas clouds associated with them as if they were mathematically embedded in sheets and filaments (dubbed the hydrodynamic approach, because the movements somewhat resemble the behavior of water). He hopes to develop models that also take into account “radiative transfer,” that is, the movement of electromagnetic radiation – energy – through these systems.

“Simply trying to reproduce the observed abundance of SMGs has driven theorists to postulate wildly discrepant models for their underlying physical properties,” Narayanan observes. 

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