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Professor Jennifer E. Scott is TU’s newest NSF CAREER recipient

Data on quasar environments is collected at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona
Data on quasar environments is collected at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona

Towson, Md. (November 3, 2010): With over $637,000 in funding as a recent recipient of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) prestigious CAREER award, Jennifer E. Scott, assistant professor in the Department of Physics, Astronomy, and Geosciences will spend the next four years investigating the effects of the intergalactic medium (IGM) and quasars on galaxy formation and evolution. Her inquiry will focus on the relationship between IGM, galaxies, and the ultraviolet background (UVB) radiation field. The IGM itself is the reservoir of material out of which galaxies are formed while the UVB radiation field governs the thermal and ionization balance in the IGM.  Scott is looking to improve measurements of the UVB in both the nearby and the distant universe. The effects of galaxies on the IGM in terms of their ionization signatures in both hydrogen and helium in the intergalactic medium are another focus of Scott’s research; while quasars (bright active galaxies hosting super massive black holes in their centers) will be investigated to determine if normal galaxies cluster more strongly around quasars than with each other. The formation and growth of black holes over cosmic time is a problem that many astronomers are addressing with both observations and in theoretical models today.

CAREER grants aim to fund investigators who successfully integrate research and education. To that end, Scott’s project, “CAREER: Cosmic Recycling: Quasars, Galaxies and their Intergalactic Environs,” proposes not only to deliver scientific outcomes relevant to astrophysics but to incorporate research inquiry and results into the undergraduate curriculum. The research described in Scott’s proposal is designed to be carried out largely by students under her guidance. Through participation in research, students build mentoring relationships, develop research skills, learn to work collaboratively, and share their outcomes within the scientific community and public. As a female astronomer, Scott feels uniquely prepared to serve as a role model both to women and minorities and actively encourages these students to pursue research and post graduate education in astronomy or other STEM fields.

Another important aspect of the CAREER award is impact. Through her ongoing involvement in Project ASTRO, a national program run by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), Scott piloted a new program within the Baltimore-D.C. area in 2008. Project ASTRO aims to build partnerships between educators and regional astronomers to incorporate learning materials and scientific, inquiry based activities in K-9 classrooms. Together with TU faculty member, Rommel Miranda, Project ASTRO has been an ongoing effort to encourage participation and interest in STEM. With funds provided by her new CAREER award, Scott will continue to expand her work related to Project ASTRO and other outreach activities.

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