John-David T. Smith of the University of Toledo Receives Prestigious Cottrell Scholar Award for Scie
Tucson, AZ – April 12, 2012 – Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA), America’s oldest foundation devoted exclusively to science, announced today that it is honoring John-David T. Smith, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, University of Toledo, with a prestigious academic award, the Cottrell Scholar Award. The Award, one of 11 issued nationally this year, recognizes leaders in integrating science teaching and research at America’s top research universities. Each recipient receives a $75,000 grant and admission to an exclusive community of scholars, the Cottrell Scholars Collaborative.
This year’s awards are made as RCSA celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding by Frederick Gardner Cottrell, for whom the awards are named. The awards, instituted in 1994, honor Cottrell, a scientist, inventor and philanthropist. Cottrell was a science visionary, whose invention of the electrostatic precipitator was an early environmental innovation that reduced pollution from smokestacks. Cottrell founded what is now RCSA to provide support for scientific research and experimentation at scholarly institutions.
“RCSA has named Smith a 2012 Cottrell Scholar, based on his innovative research as well as his passion for teaching,” said James M. Gentile, RCSA president and CEO.
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 the 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.
The Cottrell Scholars program owes its origins to RCSA’s concern with the apparent separation of teaching and research in Ph.D. institutions.
“Rather than being communities of university-scholars, universities are often perceived as collections of specialists,” RCSA’s Gentile said. “We seek to reinforce the growing awareness that these two functions are complementary rather than wholly or partially exclusive.”
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About Research Corporation for Science Advancement – Research Corporation for Science Advancement (www.rescorp.org) – formerly known as Research Corporation – was founded in 1912 and is the second-oldest foundation in the United States (after the Carnegie Corporation) and the oldest foundation devoted wholly to science. Research Corporation is a leading advocate for the sciences and a major funder of scientific innovation and of research in America’s colleges and universities. Follow updates from RCSA on Facebook and Twitter.