Awards Database

Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2012

John-David Thomas Smith

University of Toledo

After the Fall -- Why Galaxies Die, and How

Smith began his tenure-track appointment at the University in 2008. His research is aimed at developing an understanding of the nature of star formation and the feedback mechanisms that affect the evolution of galaxies, including central black holes within galaxies. He is a leader of an international team for a major spectroscopic component of one of the Herschel Space Observatory’s key projects, called KINGFISH. The Herschel is a European Space Agency observatory based at the Second Lagrangian point (L2) in space. Lagrangian points are the five orbital positions in the vicinity of earth where a satellite can remain stationary relative to two larger objects; in the case of L2 those objects are the earth and the sun. Herschel, launched in 2009, is the largest space-based infrared observatory. It is named for Sir William Herschel, discoverer of the infrared spectrum. Because it sees the universe in infrared, the Herschel is capable of observing the coldest and dustiest objects in space. The KINGFISH project (Key Insights on Nearby Galaxies: a Far-Infrared Survey with Herschel), which Smith oversees, is an imaging and spectroscopic survey aimed at better understanding the physical processes linking star formation to the matter that exists in the space between star systems. In addition to his work on the Hershel, the computational and data analysis tools Smith has developed in his work are widely used by the astronomical community. As a teacher, Smith developed innovative techniques in teaching undergraduate courses for both majors and non-majors, and colleagues say he has brought the excitement of scientific research and discoveries into his classes. Smith led an effort to acquire an infrared-imaging camera for use in teaching demonstrations, and he is creating novel ways of using this camera in the classroom, in labs, and in outreach efforts. Smith received the Cottrell Scholar Award based on his peer-reviewed proposal that included both research and teaching projects. His research project will attempt to develop new methods to study what astronomers call “feedback” in the evolution of galaxies. It is a poorly understood process by which the gas and dust fueling stellar and black hole growth is expelled from a galaxy, bringing to a relatively abrupt end an initial period of abundant star creation. Meanwhile, his education project for the Cottrell Scholar Award involves creating new astronomy curricula for undergraduate students. “Like hundreds of other facilities around the nation, the Ritter Planetarium at UT is undergoing upgrades to a state-of-the-art full dome digital projection system, providing advanced visualization capabilities far beyond the traditional night sky,” Smith said. “I will develop and widely distribute a new suite of student-led, interactive astronomy lab modules for use in digital planetariums, fully exploiting the unique new immersive imaging capabilities of these systems.” He said initial modules will focus on the behavior of the night sky, understanding the mechanics of the solar system, exploring the distribution of galaxies in the Universe, and revealing electromagnetic spectrum and multi-wavelength views of the world. Smith said these highly visual programs will use data developed by today’s astronomers during their observations of the universe.

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