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ETSU awarded $133,715 grant by National Science Foundation

Published: Monday, September 30, 2013

Updated: Monday, September 30, 2013 00:09

East Tennessee State University has been awarded a grant of $133,715 from the National Science Foundation to study gravitational interactions and mergers between galaxies.

The lead investigator on this project is Beverly Smith, a professor in the ETSU department of physics and astronomy.

The work that will be done using the grant money will be a collaboration between Smith and  Curtis Struck from Iowa State University.

“A galaxy is a gigantic collection of stars and interstellar gas tens of thousands of light years in extent, and can contain hundreds of millions of stars,” Smith said.

“Galaxies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including flattened disk galaxies like our home galaxy, the Milky Way.”

“Collisions and mergers between galaxies cause dramatic changes to the structure of the galaxies.”

“The tremendous gravitational forces involved when galaxies approach each other stretch and distort their disks, producing extremely long tails extending millions of light years in to intergalactic space.”

“Close encounters between galaxies can cause interstellar gas clouds to gravitationally contract, collapsing under their own weight to produce stars. Collisions between galaxies can trigger the formation of vast numbers of new stars over a very short period of time.”

In her research, Smith studies such collisions using data from a variety of telescopes, including infrared images from the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, optical images from ground-based telescopes and the NASA Hubble Space Telescope, X-ray data from the NASA Chandra telescope, and ultraviolet images from the NASA Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) satellite.

Smith regularly teaches introductory astronomy courses at ETSU, as well as upper-level physics and astronomy courses.

She also supervises undergraduate physics majors in research projects, including Honors theses.

The NSF grant will provide funds to employ undergraduate students over the summer and during the school year as research assistants, with the students presenting their results at local and regional conferences.


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