Smaller stars pack big X-ray punch for developing planets RIT scientist leads study

Young stars much less massive than the sun can unleash a torrent of X-ray radiation that can significantly shorten the lifetime of planet-forming disks surrounding these stars.

This result comes from a new study of a group of nearby stars using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes. Rochester Institute of Technology astronomer Joel Kastner led the study.

Kastner’s team found evidence that intense X-ray radiation produced by some of the young stars in the TW Hya Association (TWA), which is about 160 light years from Earth, has destroyed disks of dust and gas surrounding them. These disks are where planets form. The stars are only 8 million years old, compared to the sun’s four-and-a-half billion years. Astronomers want to learn more about systems this young because they are at a crucial age for the birth and early development of planets.

Various research groups have been exploring whether high-energy radiation from young dwarf stars might help “blow away” their planet-forming disks, said Kastner, professor in RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.


Jun. 13, 2016
Susan Gawlowicz

“We were able to take advantage of the TW Hya Association stars, which are some of the nearest known young stars, to make progress—and the answer seems to be an emphatic ‘yes!’” Kastner said. “At the same time, it seems that the lowest mass stars have such wimpy radiation fields that their disks can survive for a surprisingly long time.”

Another key difference between the sun and the stars in the study involves their mass. The TWA stars in the new study contain between about one-tenth to one-half the mass of the sun and also emit less light. Until now, it was unclear whether X-ray radiation from such small, faint stars could affect their planet-forming disks of material. These latest findings suggest that a faint star’s X-ray output may play a crucial role in determining the survival time of its disk. These results mean that astronomers may have to revisit current ideas on the formation process and early lives of planets around these faint stars.

Using X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton observatory and ROSAT (the ROentgen SATellite), Kastner’s team looked at the intensity of X-rays produced by a group of stars in the TWA, along with how common their star-forming disks are. They split the stars into two groups to make this comparison. The first group of stars had masses ranging from about one-third to one-half that of the sun. The second group contained stars with masses only about one-tenth that of the sun, which included relatively massive brown dwarfs, objects that do not have sufficient mass to generate self-sustaining nuclear reactions in their cores.

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The researchers found that, relative to their total energy output, the more massive stars in the first group produce more X-rays than the less massive ones in the second. To find out how common planet-forming disks in the groups were, the team used data from NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and, in some cases, ground-based spectroscopy previously obtained by other teams. They found that all of the stars in the more massive group had already lost their planet-forming disks, but only about half of the stars in the less massive group had lost their disks. This suggests that X-rays from the more massive stars are speeding up the disappearance of their disks, by heating disk material and causing it to “evaporate” into deep space.

In previous studies, astronomers found that 10-million-year-old stars in the Upper Scorpius region, another star-forming group, displayed a similar trend of an increase in the lifetime of disks for lower mass stars. However, the Upper Scorpius work did not incorporate X-ray data that might offer an explanation for this trend, which is one reason why this new study of the 8 million-year-old TWA is important. Another reason is that theoretical models of the evolution of planet-forming disks generally predict that the lifetimes of disks should have very little dependence on the mass of the star. The new results for the “puny” TWA stars point to the need to revisit disk evolution models to account for the range in the X-ray outputs of very low-mass stars.

In searching for planets outside of our solar system, many astronomers have focused their efforts on observing stars less massive than the sun, like those described here. Such stars may offer some of the best targets for direct imaging of exoplanets in the so-called habitable zone, the star-to-planet distance range where liquid water could exist and life may eventually flourish. These low mass stars are also attractive targets because they are relatively faint and planets in their habitable zones should be easier to detect and investigate.

These results appear in The Astronomical Journal. The authors of this paper are Joel Kastner from RIT; RIT alumnus David Principe ’14 (astrophysical sciences and technology), now at Universidad Diego Portales; Chile; Kristina Punzi, Ph.D. student at RIT; Beate Stelzer at INAF Palermo, Italy; Uma Gorti at SETI Institute; Ilaria Pascucci at University of Arizona; and Costanza Argiroffi at INAF.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

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CIS Freshman Wins Prestigious Writing Award
Student Stories

First year Imaging Science student Kevin Kha honored for writing excellence by College of Liberal Arts

Apr. 29, 2016
Greg Livadas

RIT’s College of Liberal Arts honored student achievement in writing on Friday with the presentation of the 2016 Henry and Mary Kearse Distinguished Lecture and Student Writing Award Ceremony.

“This is our big event of the year where we honor students in each of our programs who have done some outstanding writing in classes in the College of Liberal Arts,” said Dean James Winebrake. “It really allows us to recognize and celebrate the good work of our students.”

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Winebrake also said the awards are also a good reflection of the faculty.

“There’s not a prouder moment in a faculty member’s career than to see one of their students win an award like this,” he said.

It was the 36th year the awards have been presented. Faculty committees in each department within the College of Liberal Arts select student awardees from a variety of disciplines whose work embodies the ideals and standards of excellence, creative endeavor and scholarship.

This year’s Kearse Award recipients are:

  • Natalie Paskoski, a fourth-year advertising and public relations major from Finksburg, Md., representing the School of Communication, with “Bein’ the Girl in a Country Song.”
  • Avanelle St. Bernard, a fourth-year criminal justice major from Brooklyn, N.Y., representing the Department of Criminal Justice, with “Title IX: Sexual Misconduct.”
  • Michael Guesev, a second-year economics major from Scarborough, Maine, representing the Department of Economics, with “Wex, Inc.: Strategic Position and Future Projects.”
  • Maria Nadeau, a first-year biochemistry major from Lancaster, N.H., representing the Department of English, with “My Favorite Place.”
  • Melissa Fanton, a fourth-year museum studies major from Henrietta, N.Y., won two awards: representing the Department of History with “The Cornerstone of Peace: Peace, War and Post-War Politics;” and representing the Department of Performing Arts and Visual Culture with “Guerilla Girls: The Difficulty of Maintaining Objectivity.”
  • Rafael Lopez, a fifth-year software engineering major from Katy, Texas, and Sarathi Hansen, a fifth-year computer science major from East Elmhurst, N.Y., representing the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, with “The First Day of My College.”
  • Alexander Flavin, a second-year double major in biochemistry and philosophy, from, Conneautville, Pa., representing the Department of Philosophy, with “Hume in Japan.”
  • Brian Palamar, a third-year political science major from Webster, N.Y., representing the Department of Political Science, with “The Weakest Branch: An Auxiliary Precaution, Publius’ Account of the Judiciary and Judicial Review.”
  • Ciara Lutz, a third-year psychology major from Webster, N.Y., representing the Department of Psychology, with “The Knee-Jerk Reaction: Automaticity and Attention in Modified Stroop Tasks.”
  • Matthew Anauo, a first-year electrical engineering major from Elba, N.Y., representing the Department of Public Policy, with “Rethinking Third-Party Doctrine for the Digital Era.”
  • Kevin Kha, a second-year imaging science major from Chili, N.Y., representing the Department of Science, Technology and Society, with “Pollen Essay.”
  • Brianna Larson, a fourth-year double major in international and global studies and political science, from Stockton, Mo., representing the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, with “In Defense of the Syrian Refugee: Assessing Actual vs. Perceived Risk in Syrian Resettlement.”

The awards were created in 1980 thanks to a donation from Henry J. Kearse, founder and president of the construction firm H.J. Kearse Inc., and his wife, Mary, a longtime member of RIT’s Nathaniel Rochester Society.

Also, the Stanley McKenzie Endowed Writing Prize for first-year students, funded by and named for RIT’s former provost and member of the English department, was awarded toEthelia Lung, a new media design major from Hong Kong, whose essay “Nurturing Discipline,” earned her first place. Second place was awarded to Corinne Green, a game design and development major from Los Gatos, Calif., who wrote “Timed Writing Assessments: How They Are Useless.”

This year’s distinguished lecturer at the ceremony was David Swiencicki Martins, director of the University Writing Program and associate professor in the Department of English, who spoke about “The Liberal Arts: An Invitation to Revise” at the ceremony.

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Original Source: University News

Two RIT students win Fulbright fellowships as international scholarships continue to soar Victoria Scholl, Yasmeen Smalley-Norman among 16 students to be recognized at event today


As yet another demonstration of Rochester Institute of Technology’s continuing ascendance when it comes to global learning experiences, an RIT student and alumna have won prestigious Fulbright fellowships for the 2016-17 academic year and 14 others have been awarded international scholarships.

All will be recognized this afternoon, when the Office of the Provost hosts its second annual Global Learning Symposium and reception from 3 to 5 p.m. in the atrium of the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences.

Established in 1946, the Fulbright prize is one of the most prestigious in academic circles and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, promoting cultural exchanges with more than 140 countries.



Apr. 28, 2016
Rich Kiley

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The winning Fulbright students are:

  • Victoria Scholl, a fourth-year imaging science major from RIT’s College of Science and a motion picture science major from the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences (CIAS).
  • Yasmeen Smalley-Norman, who graduated in 2013 with a BFA in photojournalism from CIAS and a BS in biomedical photographic communications, with minors in environmental science and journalism.

“One of the goals of the RIT strategic plan is to develop practices and opportunities that emphasize the importance of global engagement among our students, faculty, partners and alumni,” said Jeremy Haefner, RIT provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “Our Fulbright students and all of our international scholarship winners—together with the faculty who have facilitated these experiences—represent the growing global learning experiences we’re continuing to shape both here at RIT and in many countries abroad.”

Scholl, a native of Hudson Valley, N.Y., will work in partnership with scientists at the University of Zürich and plans to apply airborne light detection and ranging technology (LiDAR) processing methods to large regions across Switzerland and adapt them for optimal individual tree detection over a 12-month period. LiDAR allows for efficient forest surveying. These findings may then be applied to other forests around the world as a step toward understanding, forecasting and solving global climate change issues.

Smalley-Norman is the vice president and 3D modeler at The Hydrous, a nonprofit organization dedicated to modeling coral reefs. Originally from Houston and now a resident of Dover, N.H., Smalley-Norman will produce 3D models and photographs to map coral species in the Philippines. Her work will be used to scientifically identify species and update the CoenoMap, a web-accessible map-oriented database of corals in the Philippines. The models will also be used to calculate coral surface area to better understand growth during climate change.

Scholl and Smalley-Norman are among more than 1,900 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad for the 2016-2017 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. student program.

It is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries. It is the largest exchange program in the country and provides funds for American students to live in another country for one year to teach English, conduct research or earn a graduate degree.

Since its establishment in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program has given approximately 360,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and scientists the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

RIT was named a top producer of Fulbright students among master’s institutions for 2015-2016. The university has had six awardees in the past three years. The Fulbright competition is administered at RIT through the RIT Global Office. Similarly, 40 international students from 25 countries attended RIT this year through the Fulbright Foreign Student Program.

For further information about the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, go to or contact the Office of Academic Exchange Programs at 202-632-3238 or

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Finding hidden text in historical documents
document restoration

Mar. 21, 2016
Susan Gawlowicz

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Roger Easton, professor of imaging science, is the go-to guy for imaging cultural artifacts in various states of deterioration. He and his students have enhanced manuscripts all over the world. (Photo courtesy of A. Sue Weisler)

The direction of RIT professor Roger Easton’s research changed in 1998 when a manuscript scholar working for Christie’s of New York came to the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science with a palimpsest in her backpack.

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Underneath the text of a 12th-century Christian prayer book lay the erased 10th-century transcriptions of mathematical treatises written by Archimedes in the third century BCE. The palimpsest, or overwritten book, was bound from random pages of discarded manuscripts scraped clean. Copies of Archimedes’ writings had wound up in a medieval recycling bin.

The erased manuscripts in the palimpsest include the only extant copy of Archimedes’ Method of Mechanical Theorems and the only version of his best-known work, On Floating Bodies, written in the original Greek. The Christie’s scholar wanted a sampling of images from the seven treatises for the auction catalog, and she needed the RIT team to disentangle and enhance the undertext.

Easton spent one day that August imaging the manuscript with the late Robert Johnston, archeologist and retired RIT dean of the then-College of Fine Arts. Their collaborator, Keith Knox, then a scientist at Xerox Corp., helped. His sister-in-law at Christie’s had referred the scholar to the group.

They captured a sample of images from the manuscript under ultraviolet and infrared light and processed the information to reveal text and diagrams containing Archimedes’ concepts.

The manuscript sold at auction for $2 million and spent a decade under conservation at the Walters Art Gallery, now Museum. The preservation of Archimedes’ treatises—and other important historical and philosophical writings recovered on the palimpsest—culminated in a 2011 symposium and exhibition and a two-volume catalogue of images enhanced largely by Easton and Knox.

The project gained RIT entry into an inner circle of scholars and conservators. Today, Easton is the go-to guy for imaging manuscripts, maps, musical scores and other cultural artifacts in various states of deterioration.

Demand for the digital recovery of historical artifacts has taken Easton to Egypt, England, France, Germany, the Republic of Georgia, Italy and India to image documents too precious and fragile to move.

He and his students have enhanced religious manuscripts found in a back room at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Mount Sinai, Egypt, the African diaries of Victorian explorer David Livingstone and the 15th century Martellus Map, which may have influenced Christopher Columbus. Discover magazine ranked the multispectral imaging of the Martellus Map at Yale University as No. 74 in its list of the top 100 science stories of 2015. Chet Van Duzer, an independent scholar, led the project.

“The Archimedes palimpsest was the driving force that showed people what could be done and also taught us how to do it,” said Easton, a professor of imaging science. “We had to learn how to collect the data better and process it. The Archimedes is arguably the most significant surviving manuscript in the history of science.”

Urgent need

Spectral imaging recovers faded or erased text by capturing details about the ink and the parchment at different wavelengths. And because different wavelengths of light convey information unique to that spectrum, traces of iron ink, for instance, appear one way in infrared light, another way in ultraviolet, and, perhaps, not at all in visible light. Multispectral imaging collects the different information and recombines them into composite spectral signatures.

Easton uses the near-infrared wavelength to reveal ink in darkened or charred parchment and the ultraviolet wavelength to enhance the visibility of faded text with fluorescence. Instead of reflecting light, a document imaged under ultraviolet absorbs and re-emits light, making the parchment glow beneath the ink.

The collaborator’s imaging system has evolved since the early days of the Archimedes project. The current setup includes a 50-megapixel digital camera, a spectral lens that provides a sharp focus from near ultraviolet to near infrared wavelengths, and different panels of light emitting diodes in 12 bands of color. The camera has optical filters that allow illumination of the object with one color and imaging with another.

“War and climate are the two biggest threats to these documents,” Easton said. “Mali rebels burned the public library in Timbuktu, while ISIS did the same in Mosul (Iraq). There is an urgent need to preserve and document and to have multiple repositories of data.”

One of his collaborators, Gregory Heyworth, a humanities professor at the University of Mississippi, estimates that Europe alone has 60,000 manuscripts in need of attention.

Easton thinks the number is modest. The overwhelming amount of work to be done is compounded by the lack of trained people to do it, he said.

“The Archimedes took us 10 years. That was one manuscript, 177 leaves. It had lots of issues. Then, 161 palimpsested manuscripts at St. Catherine’s Monastery. We started out planning for 135, but we found more during the imaging over the course of the five-year project.”

A happy accident

The emerging field of spectral imaging of historical documents gives RIT an opportunity to capitalize on its imaging expertise and become an international leader and a resource in this area, said David Messinger, director of the Center for Imaging Science.

“We could develop new imaging modalities and new image processing tools and techniques that could be transitioned to the teams that go out into the field,” Messinger said. “Funded graduate students could be doing the cutting-edge research and permanent staff could support both the students and people outside RIT.”

Already students are making a difference.

During work on the Archimedes palimpsest, Kevin Bloechl ’12, ’14 (imaging science) developed processing techniques that Easton now applies to every new project. The story is one of Easton’s favorite anecdotes.

At the time, Bloechl, then a first-year student, asked Easton for something to do over the 2008 winter break instead of bagging groceries. Easton had just received an email from the curator at Walters Art Museum asking him to spend his holiday working on a section of the Archimedes palimpsest the scholars wanted to read. Easton handed the project to Bloechl.

“I said, ‘Here. Go do this,’ figuring he wouldn’t have any luck,” Easton said. “Within four hours, he stumbled upon it. With those images we were able to recover the text that was completely invisible to our normal methods. The scholars described the results as ‘miraculous.’”

Bloechl used one color image composed of red, green and blue light generated by fluorescence from the ultraviolet illumination. The text became legible to scholars after processing those three bands of the color image.

“It was the red-green-blue difference where the text was but only in this one undertext,” he said. “This was a commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Categories’ that was part of the palimpsest.”

His breakthrough changed Easton’s approach. From then on, Easton always imaged the color of the ultraviolet fluorescence. The manuscript absorbed the ultraviolet and emitted light mostly in the blue, some in the green and a little in the red, Easton explained.

Bloechl describes his contribution as a happy accident.

“The pages of the palimpsest had been imaged under illumination at various wavelengths, and all of these wavelengths were being used in processing,” he said. “I forgot to include all of the wavelengths on one attempt. This yielded the initial results that I’d come up with, and noticing improved results, I continued to use this processing over a full page of the palimpsest.”

David Kelbe ’10, ’15 (imaging science) is another student who has advanced the science of imaging historical documents. Kelbe, now a research scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, introduced principles of remote sensing to the statistical analysis of different spectral colors. His techniques analyze the different brightness and wavelengths of light and recombine them to accentuate the contrast of the undertext, he explained.

“Remote sensing has benefited from huge amounts of resources and development over the last decades for the intelligence community,” Kelbe said. “The cultural heritage domain doesn’t have that expertise, but we can bring the same methods and technology to this domain and there is a lot of potential there.”

Kelbe will continue teaching scholars in Vienna and Athens to image documents they wish to recover. He is also ensuring continuity at RIT by teaching his techniques to fourth-year imaging science undergraduates Liz Bondi and Kevin Sacca.

Sacca is exploring solutions for scholars with his senior project. He is developing an inexpensive portable imaging system for scholars to use on site. Sacca will demonstrate a prototype of his imaging-software tool kit at the Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival on May 7. Easton looks forward to Sacca’s results.

Messinger sees the potential to connect the dots among the College of Science, the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, the College of Liberal Arts’ museum studies and digital humanities and social sciences programs, and the Cary Graphic Arts Collection in The Wallace Center. Steven Galbraith, curator of the Melbert B. Cary Jr. Graphic Arts Collection, proposed and championed the idea.

This fall, a new Laboratory for Imaging of Historical Artifacts was established by the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science with $300,000 from the Chester and Dorris Carlson Charitable Fund. The laboratory will position RIT to advance the science behind imaging historical documents and train more people.

“With the number of manuscripts that need imaging, we need many more systems and many more groups out there doing this work,” Easton said. “We need tech-savvy scholars who can image documents and affordable, user-friendly equipment for them to use. And we need to close the loop between scholars and scientists. It’s really an example of how the humanities and the sciences can work together.”

Past projects

Cultural heritage objects imaged:

  • Palimpsests (erased and overwritten manuscripts)
  • Archimedes palimpsest 10th century
  • Syriac-Galen palimpsest ninth century
  • St. Catherine’s Monastery (“New Finds” project administered by the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library)
  • David Livingstone’s African diaries
  • Scythia, 11th century palimpsest, from the National Library of Austria
  • Codex Vercellensis (“Codex A”)
  • Les Eschéz d’Amour (The Chess of Love), a 31,000-line, 14th-century French epic poem damaged in 1945 during bombing raids on Dresden


  • Vercelli Mappamundi c. 1220
  • Waldseemüller Cosmographica Universalis 1507
  • Martellus World Map c. 1491

Coming up

Roger Easton will present his research this year at several forums. He and collaborator Keith Knox will present the keynote address at the Imaging Science and Technology Society: Digital Archiving Conference at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., April 20, and participate in a forum about the Syriac Galen palimpsest in Philadelphia April 29-30.

Robert Johnston’s legacy

RIT’s foray into the spectral imaging of historical documents was initiated in the 1990s by the late archeologist Robert Johnston, a former dean of RIT’s College of Fine Arts and director of the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science from 1992-1994.

He was among the first to suggest the use of digital imaging technology to decipher the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient Jewish texts that hold clues to the development of Christianity.

RIT’s contributions were featured in documentaries produced by British Broadcasting Corp. and the Discovery Channel celebrating the 50th anniversary of the scrolls’ discovery.




Scholars were unable to read the cartouche on Henricus Martellus’ World Map until Roger Easton processed the images.

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Original Source: University News

NIH study seeks to improve quality-of-life measure for deaf and hard-of-hearing people RIT leads $1.6 million study to enhance disability and outcomes research

Mar. 28, 2016
Susan Gawlowicz

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Poorna Kushalnagar

Improving the health of the deaf and hard-of-hearing population through accessible patient-reported outcome measures is the goal of a $1.6 million National Institutes of Health-funded study, led by Rochester Institute of Technology.

Researchers and providers will, for the first time, have a tool for assessing their deaf and hard-of-hearing patients’ health-related quality-of-life outcomes in American Sign Language. Resulting data will lend new insights in patient outcomes research and improve prevention and treatment models for the underserved deaf and hard-of-hearing population, said Poorna Kushalnagar, a health psychologist and research associate professor in RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.

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Patient assessments evaluate symptoms, well-being and life satisfaction, as well as physical, mental and social health. Surveys designed for English speakers present a language barrier for many users of American Sign Language and accessible services, Kushalnagar said.

She and her colleagues at Northwestern University, University of Arkansas Little Rock and Gallaudet University have developed a new profile based on the standard Patient Reported Outcome Measurement Information System, or PROMIS, used in clinical outcomes research. The team modified the PROMIS domains to reflect the experiences of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in English and ASL. The resulting PROMIS-Deaf profile has undergone rigorous cognitive testing with deaf and hard-of-hearing adults and is being used to gather data from a nationwide sample.

A large sample of 650 participants will allow researchers to analyze data from several subgroups within the deaf and hard-of-hearing population, such as by hearing-level, language, gender, ethnicity, race and identification with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gay community.

“This project will yield the largest, most representative quality-of-life data set on deaf and hard-of-hearing adults with early deafness,” said Kushalnagar, director of the Deaf Health and Communication and Quality of Life Center in RIT’s Center for Imaging Science.

The NIH grant and supplemental research funding supports three undergraduate researchers and a post-baccalaureate diversity fellow at RIT, as well as a graduate assistant researcher at the University of Arkansas Little Rock.

Kushalnagar’s team includes David Cella, chair and professor of medical social science in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, and Samuel Atcherson, associate professor of audiology at the University of Arkansas Little Rock.

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Original Source: University News

Growing Up With the Space Race
Cultural Artifact and Document Imaging

Mar. 17, 2016
Roger Easton Jr

Back in December, Motherboard published a short post about the 58th anniversary of the 1957 Vanguard TV-3 (Test Vehicle 3) launch, which was the first American attempt to send a satellite into orbit. We were pleasantly surprised when Roger Easton Jr. reached out with his thoughts on the mission. An accomplished scientist in his own right, Dr. Easton is also the son of Roger Lee Easton, who led Project Vanguard during the 1950s, and later went on to become the inventor and designer of the Global Positioning System (GPS) that has become so ingrained in our everyday lives today.

Dr. Easton graciously obliged to share his memories of growing up alongside Project Vanguard in a post for Motherboard. Fittingly, today is the 58th anniversary of the launch of Vanguard 1, which is now the oldest satellite in orbit. Enjoy.

—Becky Ferreira


Among the strongest and clearest memories from my early childhood in the 1950s was being taken outside into the yard early one evening in October 1957 by Mom and Dad to see a moving light in the sky—in the southwest, if I recall correctly. It was the burned-out top stage of the Soviet rocket that launched Sputnik 1.

My other memories of that time are far more vague, but my sister reminds me constantly that Dad wasn’t home much that week, because he was working with his team to switch over the Minitrack satellite tracking system at Blossom Point, MD to pick up radio signals from Sputnik at 20.005 MHz (right next to the US WWV time signal) and 40.002 MHz.

Minitrack was designed to “listen in” at 108.0 MHz and 108.3 MHz, just above the FM radio band, which was much lessoccupied in the 1950s than it is now. The frequency conversion was said to be very difficult, but was eventually successful after some days of frantic effort. It apparently required stringing up an untidy nest of RF coaxial cables. As Dad told it, a Navy liaison officer was somewhat offended by the “unshipshape” nature of that building-wide web of cables, so he took on the personal task of “straightening up” the mess—and the system never worked again (which is a metaphor of some sort).

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Blossom Point, Maryland, 1956. Image: Naval Research Laboratory

Dad grew up in rural Vermont, where his father was the town doctor at the time of the Spanish Flu and the Depression. Dad was attracted to science, and was assigned to the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) after graduating from Middlebury College in 1943. A decade later, he became involved in the early US space program, including “Project Vanguard.”

This phrase had a very fuzzy meaning for me until my second-grade year. The December 1957 issue of National Geographic magazine had a photo of Dad holding the “grapefruit” test satellite. Within a week, the story became even more interesting, when the Vanguard Test Vehicle 3 (TV-3) exploded in spectacular fashion, damaging America's hope of taking back some of the spotlight from the Soviets after their successful launches of Sputniks 1 and 2.

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RIT researchers among group whose work confirms Einstein’s theories

Detection by international LIGO Collaborative opens new window on the universe with detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes

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Research at the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation at Rochester Institute of Technology explores extreme astrophysical phenomena through Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Several members of the center contributed research to the LIGO Scientific Collaboration that helped confirm Einstein’s prediction of the existence of gravitational waves. Members of the center include, left to right in the front row, Jam Sadiq, John Whelan, Jason Nordhaus, Monica Rizzo, Carlos Lousto and Manuela Campanelli, director; in the second row, Joshua Faber, Brennan Ireland and Naixin (Chris) Kang; in the third row, Yosef Zlochower, Yuanhao (Harry) Zhang and Richard O’Shaughnessy; in the fourth row, Dennis Bowen and Jake Lange; and in the fifth row, Zachary Silberman, Hans-Peter Bischof and James Healy.  (Elizabeth Lamark/RIT Production Services)

Feb. 11, 2016
Susan Gawlowicz

Six Rochester Institute of Technology researchers are among the authors of a paper announcing what may be the most important scientific discovery in a century—findings that confirm the existence of gravitational waves predicted in Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the Earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.

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Gravitational waves carry information about their dramatic origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained. Physicists have concluded that the detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.

The gravitational waves were detected on Sept. 14, 2015, at 5:51 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (9:51 UTC) by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, located in Livingston, La., and Hanford, Wash. The LIGO Observatories are funded by the National Science Foundation and were conceived, built, and are operated by Caltech and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The discovery, accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters, was made by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (which includes the GEO Collaboration and the Australian Consortium for Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy) and the Virgo Collaboration using data from the two LIGO detectors.

RIT researchers listed as co-authors of the paper to be published in Physical Review Letters are John Whelan, associate professor in RIT’s School of Mathematical Sciences and principal investigator of RIT’s group in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration; Richard O’Shaughnessy, assistant professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences; Carlos Lousto, professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences and an American Physical Society Fellow; James Healy, post-doctoral research fellow; and graduate students in RIT’s astrophysical sciences and technology program Jacob Lange and Yuanhao Zhang. They are all members of RIT’s Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation, a research hub in the College of Science and an RIT Research Center of Excellence, led by Manuela Campanelli, director of the center, professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences and an American Physical Society Fellow.

RIT President Bill Destler lauded the team for its role in this scientific revelation.

“This is a historic day in science, and RIT is thrilled that our researchers played such an important role in this collaboration's profound discovery,” Destler said. “Their commitment to their field and to their research exemplifies what we set out to do at RIT. We are delighted that our university has been able to facilitate their work and look forward to supporting them as they continue their research.”

The LIGO paper prominently cites 2005 landmark research done by Campanelli and her team on binary black hole mergers. Based on this milestone work, Lousto and Healy numerically modeled the merger of a pair of black holes and simulated gravitational waveforms that match the one which LIGO detected.

Campanelli’s team was one of the first to solve Einstein’s strong field equations describing the inspiral, merger and ringdown of binary black hole systems—and simulate colliding black holes on a supercomputer. Her collaborators were Lousto and Yosef Zlochower, an associate professor in RIT’s School of Mathematical Sciences, and Pedro Marronetti, program director of the division of gravitational physics at the National Science Foundation.

Hans-Peter Bischof, RIT professor of computer science and a member of the center and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, has produced scientific visualizations of their seminal research and subsequent work.

“The LIGO announcement is both a historical and a very emotional moment in science, especially for us, since our research contributed to the identification of the first gravitational wave observation as a binary black hole merger,” Campanelli said.

Whelan and O’Shaughnessy specialize in analyzing gravitational wave data and developing methods for detecting and interpreting gravitational wave signals.

“This discovery kicks off the field of gravitational wave astronomy,” said Whelan, principal investigator of RIT’s group in the collaboration. “For the first time, we’ve observed the universe through the new window opened up by Advanced LIGO.”

O’Shaughnessy’s research connects the gravitational-wave signatures observed by LIGO to the astrophysical sources that produced them. He estimates both the nature of these sources—in this case, a binary black hole—and how they formed.

“LIGO has just made the first direct observation of binary black holes,” O’Shaughnessy said. “The next year or two, as LIGO accumulates more data and makes the first census of binary black holes in the universe, will really transform our understanding of how these systems are made.”

O’Shaughnessy works closely with Lousto and Healy, who use supercomputers to produce accurate numerical simulations of binary black hole systems like the one detected by LIGO.

“It is incredibly exciting to see that our predictions for the merger of two black holes have been so neatly verified by direct observation,” Lousto said.

Black holes are massive stars that have collapsed into compact objects whose gravity is too strong for light to escape. Collisions of black holes produce gravitational waves that ripple through space at the speed of light.

The detection of the first gravitational wave follows the centennial celebration in 2015 of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which predicted the existence of these waves. They result from strongly gravitating masses like black hole mergers, highly spinning neutron stars and stellar explosions—and from the Big Bang.

Although these waves carry extreme amounts of energy, they couple weakly to matter, and only highly sensitive detectors like LIGO can observe them. Analysis of the shape of gravitational waves can reveal information about the systems that generated them.

LIGO research is carried out by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, a group of more than 1,000 scientists from universities around the United States and in 14 other countries. More than 90 universities and research institutes in the collaboration develop detector technology and analyze data; approximately 250 students are strong contributing members of the collaboration.

The LIGO Scientific Collaboration’s detector network includes the LIGO interferometers and the GEO600 detector. The GEO team includes scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute, AEI), Leibniz Universität Hannover, along with partners at the University of Glasgow, Cardiff University, the University of Birmingham, other universities in the United Kingdom, and the University of the Balearic Islands in Spain.

LIGO was originally proposed as a means of detecting these gravitational waves in the 1980s by Rainer Weiss, professor of physics, emeritus, from MIT; Kip Thorne, Caltech’s Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, emeritus; and Ronald Drever, professor of physics, emeritus, also from Caltech.

Virgo research is carried out by the Virgo Collaboration, consisting of more than 250 physicists and engineers belonging to 19 different European research groups: six from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France; eight from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) in Italy; two in the Netherlands with Nikhef; the Wigner RCP in Hungary; the POLGRAW group in Poland and the European Gravitational Observatory (EGO), the laboratory hosting the Virgo detector near Pisa in Italy.

The discovery was made possible by the enhanced capabilities of Advanced LIGO, a major upgrade that increases the sensitivity of the instruments compared to the first generation LIGO detectors, enabling a large increase in the volume of the universe probed—and the discovery of gravitational waves during its first observation run.

The U.S. National Science Foundation leads in financial support for Advanced LIGO. Funding organizations in Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council, STFC) and Australia (Australian Research Council) also have made significant commitments to the project. Several of the key technologies that made Advanced LIGO so much more sensitive have been developed and tested by the German UK GEO collaboration.

For more information on the RIT team:

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Original Source: University News

Observing planet formation at close range: Gemini Planet Imager’s view of the TW Hya disk
Astronomy and Space Science

Dec. 22, 2015
Joel Kastner


Investigations of star and planet formation have long focused on the rich stellar nurseries of Taurus, Ophiuchus, Chamaeleon, and a handful of similarly nearby (but lower mass) molecular clouds. These regions, which lie just beyond 100 pc, are collectively host to hundreds of low-mass, pre-main sequence (T Tauri) stars with ages of a few million years and less. They hence provide large samples of stars with orbiting circumstellar disks that span a wide range of evolutionary stages.

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Examples of protoplanetary disks that lie closer than ~100 pc to Earth are far fewer and farther between. However — because their proximity affords the maximum possible linear spatial resolution — these nearby disks provide unique opportunities to test theories describing the planet formation process (see Furthermore, the T Tauri star-disk systems within 100 pc of the Sun tend to be older, on average, than the large numbers of star-disk systems that are still found in or near their natal dark clouds. Hence, circumstellar disks orbiting the nearest known young stars are particularly informative about the late stages of planet formation, as disks disperse and any planets born therein are reaching their final masses (for a brief overview of the study of nearby young stars, see 2015arXiv151000741K).

TW Hydrae was the first of these nearby T Tauri stars to be identified, and remains the best-studied such system. At just 54 pc from Earth and a ripe young age of roughly 8 million years, this nearly solar-mass star and its orbiting, circumstellar disk of dust and gas has become a “go-to” target for new imaging facilities seeking to demonstrate their capabilities. For example, TW Hya has already been the subject of a significant number of ALMA First Light and Early Science programs aimed at investigating the chemistry and structure of its 200-AU-diameter disk.

Hence, when Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) became available for Early Science observations last year, TW Hya beckoned. Given GPI’s potential to perform diffraction-limited, coronagraphic near-infrared imaging on the 8-meter Gemini South telescope, GPI imaging of TW Hya offered the chance to image a protoplanetary disk in its giant planet and Kuiper Belt formation (~10-50 AU) regions at a jaw-dropping ~1.5 AU resolution. In combination with GPI’s polarimetric capability, such observations can tease out the faint signature of starlight scattered off circumstellar dust, potentially yielding an unprecedently detailed view of the surface of the nearly face-on disk.

Our team’s observations of TW Hya were challenging for GPI; the star lies at the faint end of the useful range of its adaptive optics (AO) unit. But our team had successfully imaged the circumbinary disk orbiting the close binary T Tauri system V4046 Sgr with GPI (Rapson et al. 2015ApJ…803L..10R), a system very similar to TW Hya in many respects (including its I magnitude). So we had hope for TW Hya as well.


The GPI observations of TW Hya did not disappoint. These new GPI coronagraphic/polarimetric AO images confirm the presence of a dark gap in the TW Hya disk at 23 AU that was previously tentatively identified via near-infrared imaging with the Subaru telescope (Akiyama et al. 2015ApJ…802L..17A). The GPI imaging furthermore clearly resolve the disk gap, allowing us to measure its width (~5 AU) and depth (~50%) and thereby facilitating direct comparison with detailed numerical simulations of planets forming in circumstellar disks. The comparisons we have carried out thus far (see above) indicate that the 5-AU-wide gap’s observed structure could be generated by a sub-Jupiter-mass planet orbiting within the disk at a position roughly equivalent to that of Uranus in our solar system. For the gory details, see Rapson et al. (2015ApJ…815L..26).

Further scrutiny of the TW Hya disk with GPI and SPHERE in their differential coronagraphic imaging modes may yield direct detection of the planet(s) that appears to be actively carving a gap in the TW Hya disk — especially if the putative planet is still actively accreting gas from the disk. There are other possible explanations for the formation of gaps and rings in disks, however. In particular, dust grain fragmentation and ice condensation rates may change rapidly with disk radius, yielding sharp variations in small grain surface densities and/or reflective properties that can produce the appearance of disk gaps when imaged in scattered starlight. Or the inner regions of the disk may be partially shadowing exterior regions. ALMA imaging of the TW Hya disk should provide definitive tests of these alternative scenarios for the gap at 23 AU seen in our GPI imaging.

-Joel Kastner (Center for Imaging Science and School of Physics & Astronomy, Rochester Institute of Technology)

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Campus Spotlight

campus spotlight photo

Jan. 14, 2016
A. Sue Weisler

Roger Easton, professor in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, uses multispectral imaging to uncover hidden text from historical objects. He is spending the intersession in Chartres, France, imaging fragments of manuscripts damaged in WWII bombings.

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