Astrophysics Ph.D. gives Trombley momentum
Astronomy and Space Science
Student Stories

Apr. 26, 2013
Susan Gawlowicz

Christine Trombley keeps an ambitious to-do list. This May, she will check off her latest achievement—earning her Ph.D. from RIT’s astrophysical sciences and technology program.

“It is an amazing feeling to finally reach one of my primary goals in life,” Trombley says. “I have known I wanted a Ph.D. since I first started out as an undergraduate.”

Trombley, originally from Warren, Mich., studied the mass distribution of stars in clusters for her dissertation, “Investigation of the Intermediate and High End Initial Mass Function as Probed by near-Infrared Selected Stellar Clusters.” Her research at RIT led to an observing trip to Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and a three-month internship at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., to gather data about groups of extremely large stars.


Christine Trombley stands in front of the telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The RIT astrophysical sciences and technology graduate student will earn her Ph.D. this May.

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“These stars are much more massive than the sun, even as much as 200 times more massive,” Trombley says. “The mass distribution of these stars can tell astronomers about massive star formation, a topic which remains a theoretical challenge.”

Trombley’s thesis adviser, Don Figer, director of RIT’s Center for Detectors, is an expert on massive stars.

“Christine’s research has been a tour de force representing work that she has done with me since 2007,” Figer says. “I expect her to go on and have a successful research career in the fields of massive stars and massive star clusters.”

The conferral of Trombley’s degree will bring closure to the inaugural class of astrophysical sciences and technology students that started the program in 2008, says Andrew Robinson, director of astrophysical sciences and technology.

“Christine was the first AST student to win an external fellowship—a NASA Graduate Student Research Fellowship—and when she graduates in May, she will also become the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in the AST program,” Robinson says.

Trombley is currently looking for a postdoctoral fellowship to continue her astrophysical research on massive stars and add to the collective understanding of the world.

“Astrophysics puts together the pieces of the puzzle of the universe,” she says. “If you are prepared to work hard, it’s possible to add your own contribution to understanding the nature of the universe.”

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Original Source: University News

Focus Area | Future of Research - National Technical Institute for the Deaf

The National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) is a leader in the development of pedagogical theories and best practices for teaching deaf students. NTID researchers created C-Print®, real-time captioning, that is used in high school and college classrooms around the world. NTID faculty have numerous research projects underway that address how to integrate text, video, and graphics in the classroom when teaching students on various subjects, particularly the STEM disciplines.

Nov. 14, 2014
Kelly Sorensen

Visual Attention and Information Retention: Junior and senior faculty members from NTID and the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science are working together on research that examines deaf students’ gaze behavior associated with reading captions in videos of STEM lectures. Students may miss crucial information because they must divide their attention among the instructor, interpreter (or captioning screen), and the graphics. Researchers will investigate how the distance between captions and displays affects students’ ability to retain information.

Above, Kasmira Patel, a human-computer interaction major, watches a video about the periodic table in chemistry with professor Poorna Kushalnagar. The wall screen shows Patel’s gaze behavior.

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Original Source: RIT Research Magazine

Focus Area | Future of Research - College of Science

The College of Science continues to build on its collaborative, interdisciplinary, and multidisciplinary research and to develop new research clusters, laboratories, and centers. By applying the expertise of physicists, chemists, statisticians, mathematicians, computational scientists, and imaging scientists to human and environmental problems, researchers are developing novel solutions.

Nov. 14, 2014
Mark Gillespie

Breadth of Research

The college has well-established areas of research in imaging science, color science, detectors, astrophysical sciences, and the physical sciences. The college’s world-renowned Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science generates millions in research funding annually and serves as the hub for its Ph.D. program in imaging science. Now, the college has its sights set on new innovations.

Analyzing Biomedical Imagery: Nathan Cahill, standing, along with imaging science doctoral student Kfir Ben Zikri, is developing algorithms for a longitudinal study of lung nodules in CT scans.

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A new doctoral program in mathematical modeling is under development. This program will be interdisciplinary and provide graduates with a foundation in the development and application of mathematical models of real-world problems.

“Humanity’s challenges do not acknowledge the arbitrary categories of academic disciplines. The College of Science, therefore, isn’t afraid to combine the expertise of researchers across all of our disciplines,” said Sophia Maggelakis, dean of the College of Science.

The college is developing a portfolio of research clusters under the area of Bio+Sciences (biochemistry, biomathematics, biophysics, bioimaging, biotechnology, bioinformatics, and biostatistics). The college’s portfolio of research related to climate study and to STEM education continues to grow and has allowed partnerships with colleagues from other colleges and universities.

Undergraduate science and math students frequently work alongside faculty to conduct original research and regularly present at international and national conferences and publish, as co-authors, in peer-reviewed journals. The college is currently running three NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs.

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Original Source: RIT Research Magazine

A Look Back and the Road Ahead
Remote Sensing
Astronomy and Space Science

RIT is currently creating its blueprint for the next 10 years. Since the adoption of the last strategic plan in 2005, the university has transformed from a fine regional university to one of national prominence. The challenge ahead is how to become a world-class university without peer. 

Nov. 14, 2014
Ryne Raffaelle

Greater Emphasis on Scholarship and Research

Around the turn of the 21st century, RIT leadership instituted a new vision for research.

“We will be first in that class of universities that forms real, effective, and meaningful partnerships with industry and government,” said then RIT President Albert Simone when he announced his intentions. It was felt that the time had come for RIT to engage in an increased level of sponsored research and scholarly dissemination that would help the university emerge on the national stage. “First in Class” became the catch phrase.

This was partially in response to declining student demographics in the northeast and the need to expand the geographical base from which we were drawing students. RIT leadership also recognized that expanding the research portfolio would assist the university in what it had always done well—provide students with a hands-on experiential learning experience that would serve them well in their future careers. As student enrollment climbed, it was clear that additional resources would be required to provide meaningful research opportunities on campus to supplement the other hands-on experiences students received through their co-op placements and other opportunities, such as senior design projects.

In conjunction with the increasing level of sponsored research was an acknowledgement that competing at the national level for research funding would require an expansion of our terminal degree programs. Thus RIT added to its one pre-existing and very successful doctoral program in imaging science (1989). New Ph.D. programs were launched in microsystems engineering (2002), computing and information sciences (2005), color science (2007), astrophysical sciences and technology (2008), sustainability (2008), and engineering (2014).

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Creation of Interdisciplinary Research Centers

Another trend at RIT was the transition from the model of an individual principal investigator (PI) working with an undergraduate or graduate student to one of interdisciplinary research centers. These centers incorporated multiple grants and PIs, many graduate and undergraduate students, and an increasing number of Ph.D. students and even some post-doctoral researchers. A new designation was established in 2009, titled RIT Research Centers of Excellence. These centers include the NanoPower Research Labs (NPRL), Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing Lab (DIRS), Multidisciplinary Vision Research Lab (MVRL), Laboratory for Multiwavelength Astrophysics (LAMA), Center for Detectors (CFD), Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation (CCRG), Center for Advancing Science/ Mathematics Teaching, Learning and Evaluation (CASTLE), and Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity (MAGIC) Center. All of these initiatives resulted in dramatic growth in both the number of proposals and the number of new research awards received.

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Original Source: RIT Research Magazine

Student wins best paper award
Remote Sensing

Imaging Science Ph.D. student recognized at IEEE Western New York Image Processing Workshop

Nov. 20, 2014

Jie Yang, a Ph.D. student in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, won the Best Remote Sensing Paper for “A Combined Approach for Ice Sheet Elevation Extraction from Lidar Point Clouds,” co-written with John Kerekes, professor in the Center for Imaging Science, at the IEEE Western New York Image Processing Workshop held at RIT on Nov. 7. Yang is a resident of Suizhou City, Hubei Province, China.

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Original Source: University News

The Student Perspective: Imaging Science at RIT
Student Stories
Remote Sensing

I am a third year PhD student at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Imaging Science. I chose the Imaging Science degree program because quite simply, nothing else like it exists.

Aug. 26, 2013
David Kelbe

This was the first, and remains the only program of its kind in the country.

We study in depth the physics-driven principles of imaging, from beginning to end. This comprehensive, systems-based approach to imaging sets us apart from other similar degree programs: Quite simply, the science of imaging is most powerful when it is understood as a chain of deeply interconnected links (e.g., image system engineering, optical image formation, data processing, etc.)  Any chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So our coursework focuses on understanding in depth the fundamental concepts of each link in the imaging chain, and how they interact with each other in the context of a specific problem or application.

Terrestrial laser scanning to gather ground truth structural data in conjunction with airborne data. Photo: David Kelbe.

This precise, mathematical, framework allows us to better understand and harness the complex data that is collected, and thus more aptly address the given application or objective. I am continually amazed by what can be done with this technology.

At RIT, this theoretical background is combined with an intensely practical and applied engineering focus. We are at the cutting edge of utilizing the latest technology (or designing and building it ourselves) with the end goal of solving problems. Once you know and understand how imaging systems work, you can apply this fundamental knowledge to a range of fascinating applications and objectives.

Photo at right: Terrestrial laser scanning to gather ground truth structural data in conjunction with airborne data. Photo: David Kelbe.

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To put it succinctly, we are problem solvers.

We understand each piece of the puzzle and how they all fit together, and so can tackle an incredibly diverse range of imaging-related problems with the core fundamental background.

This versatility is one of the things I love about the Imaging Science program. With a fundamental, systems-based understanding of imaging, you can apply these tools to a diverse range of applications. This really translates into career flexibility. You have the freedom to follow your career goals and interests as they evolve and change, without worrying about being pigeonholed into a single discipline.

To give you an example from my personal experiences, here is a snapshot of my current and future interests:

In the fuselage of NEON's airborne imaging spectrometer. (The large instrument is the spectrometer and waveform lidar, which is mounted to look out of a hole in the bottom of the aircraft). Photo: David Kelbe.

My dissertation research involves using laser scanning for structural ecological assessment. We have developed a portable laser-scanning system for rapid three-dimensional assessment of below-canopy forest structure. I am using this technology to help better understand the next generation of airborne and space-borne sensing systems.

Photo at left: In the fuselage of NEON’s airborne imaging spectrometer. (The large instrument is the spectrometer and waveform lidar, which is mounted to look out of a hole in the bottom of the aircraft). Photo: David Kelbe.

But while my dissertation work focuses on ecological and laser scanning, I’ve also had the opportunity to become involved in other imaging projects, like recovering erased text from ancient manuscripts using spectral imaging and image processing.

And in the future, I see my work focusing on the nexus between remote sensing science and humanitarian policy. Earth imaging has already proven crucial in response to natural disasters. My hope in the future is that we can do a step better – and actually predict and prepare for preventable, slow-onset global crises (e.g., food shortage) in the developing world.

How can you make grad school work for you?

I went to RIT (also Imaging Science) as an undergraduate and continued on in the PhD program. As a new grad student it’s invaluable to get to know your classmates, professors, and staff. Become part of the group. A great strength of many higher education programs is the huge diversity of students, backgrounds, and experiences. Often we tend to stick to the familiar, but go outside your comfort zone! Get to know each other, work together, and learn from each other!

Finally, the degree is yours to create!

Learn more about a degree from RIT’s Center for Imaging Science by visiting their profile on

The author, David Kelbe, is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, researching airborne small footprint waveform lidar (light detection and ranging) for his dissertation. He has also worked on uncovering erased text from ancient manuscripts, and manages to find time for not one but two local community service projects: Kelbe volunteers at a refugee outreach center as well as a men’s emergency homeless shelter, both in Rochester.

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Young Stars Reveal Their Secrets in Rochester Backyard
Student Stories
Astronomy and Space Science

What are we really looking at when we gaze up at the stars in the night sky? That is the question that inspired RIT graduate student Billy Vazquez to build his own backyard observatory. He has now added a spectrograph to the available instrumentation at what Vazquez has dubbed the “Vazquez Astronomical Observatory” (VAO) thanks to a microgrant he received from RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science. 

Feb. 10, 2014
Lisa Powell

© Billy Vazquez

Vazquez studies stars and galaxies visible from western New York by taking optical images with a camera attached to his telescope. Those photographic images, however, portray only what we would see with our eyes if we stared through the telescope long enough.  

A spectrograph enables astronomers to capture spectra of the same stars and galaxies seen in telescopic photos. Spectra show the intensities of the different wavelengths of light, just as a ray of light is broken into colors after it has passed through a prism. By using a spectrograph to examine the light that comes from a star or anything else that shines out in the universe, Vazquez and his team get deeper insight into these celestial objects. "We get an incredible amount of information from those spectra."

"If you want to see what a person is made up of inside you take an X-Ray image. That is sort of what a spectrograph does. I attach the spectrograph to my telescope and point it to a star, and that enables me to study the elements within the atmosphere of a star. "

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Vazquez is particularly interested in young stars -- stars that have lived a very short time relative to the Sun, which has been burning hydrogen in its core for the last 4.5 billion years. Astronomers look for what Vazquez calls the signatures of youth in stars. For example, the presence of dust around a star is one possible indication of cosmic youth. 

Stars form when a cloud of interstellar gas and dust, mainly composed of molecular hydrogen, begins to collapse. Over million of years, gravity compresses the cloud. As it gains gravitational energy, it will heat up and radiate it away, becoming a “protostar”. Eventually, the core of the protostar begins to fuse hydrogen. Such a newborn star is often obscured to optical light because of the dense dust cloud still surrounding it, so newborn stars are difficult to detect with optical telescopes. Eventually winds from the star blow the surrounding cloud away, like the ocean wind blowing fog off a beach. The young star, if close enough to our solar system, then may become visible through a backyard telescope.

If Vazquez has data suggesting that he is looking at such a young star – for example, because the star is known to be “dusty”, or is known to emit strongly in X-rays -- he  then uses the spectrograph to help seek the presence of lithium in the star's chemical makeup. Lithium is an element that is quickly destroyed when a star’s core heats up, and thus it is used as a tracer element for a recently born star. If Vazquez discovers lithium in the spectral information in conjunction with X-ray and infrared excess then he has strong evidence that the star is young, perhaps 'only' ten to a hundred million years old.

Vazquez uses his telescope to assist the Center for Imaging Science faculty member Dr. Joel Kastner in his research on young stars. "My telescope does not reach too far into the Universe but I can still observe lots of stars, even with its 12-inch aperture." This aperture is much less than the diameter of professional telescopes, which can go much farther into the universe and measure the light from galaxies and stars that are much dimmer and harder to find. But, Vazquez says, "from suburban Rochester I can help Dr. Kastner –along with his collaborators around the world--find what they need to see. We can be of some use with this little backyard telescope; it saves time and money and there is no competition for telescope time!"

How far does Billy Vazquez plan to travel from suburban Rochester and the VAO?

"I have family here. I am in my mid-forties and have three kids and my wife works for Xerox, so I don't have plans to go anywhere. My goal is to teach at the college level if possible and continue my outreach work with the community here."

You can see images and read more about the VAO at Vasquez's blog:

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East Aurora Resident Images Artifacts at Boston Public Library
Student Stories
Innovative Freshmen Experience

RIT undergraduate student Maggie Castle wins grant to fund project, leads team of students

Jun. 16, 2011
Susan Gawlowicz

East Aurora resident Maggie Castle (above center) recently led a team of imaging science students from Rochester Institute of Technology on an expedition to the Boston Public Library to test an imaging device they designed and built over the course of their freshman year.

Castle, the daughter of Dan and Kathy Castle of East Aurora, will enter her second year at RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science this fall.

As a student in the Freshman Imaging Project, Castle won a $3,000 grant from the Carlson Center to test the imaging device she and her classmates designed and built during the yearlong foundation course.

The device, measuring two feet in diameter, makes polynomial texture maps, or PTMs, using visible light. Typically custom-made, the tool aids professionals working with historical documents and artifacts. The dome-shaped contraption Castle’s class built is covered with 23 LED lights that illuminate an object from multiple directions and angles. Software written by Castle’s classmates compiles 25 to 40 shots into one interactive image to reveal subtle surface textures and features, such as dents, cracks and underwriting.

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Castle and her team took the device on the road to the Boston Public Library, where RIT alumnus Tom Blake works in the Digital Lab. It was an ideal venue for trying out the device. Activity in the lab focuses on digitizing books and artifacts for public use and to make available on the Internet, Castle explains.

“Our main goal was to take polynomial texture maps of many of the artifacts and historical documents Tom provided us with to see what worked and what didn’t with our device, and how we might improve it in the future,” Castle says.

Blake brought the students a sampler platter of artifacts to image, including ancient cuneiform tablets, the original masthead of The Liberator newspaper, a Mongolian prayer board, two death masks and a page of the Gutenberg Bible.

“It was an awesome experience to be working with such amazing artifacts,” Castle says. “Not everyone gets to hold a real cuneiform tablet in their hands or see the death masks of Sacco and Vanzetti up close.

“Many of the objects that we took PTMs of had a lot of great texture, which made for great PTMs,” Castle says. “You can’t show a PTM with a picture,” Castle says. “It is an interactive image, not a still one. Tom Blake was really excited about the PTMs we created for him because he wants to show his colleagues that there are more ways to digitize and document the artifacts in the library besides just a still picture.”

Castle hopes to publish an article about the experience in an undergraduate research journal. Her team includes RIT imaging science students Kevin Dickey, Scarlett Montanaro and Dan Goldberg.

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Motion Picture Science Students Bring Their 3D Vision to RIT
Student Stories
Motion Picture Science

It’s a simple story of supply and demand, or demand and supply, depending on how you look at it. In any case, what began as a quest for a senior project emerged as a useful legacy created by students, for students.

May. 24, 2011
Amy Mednick

Ian Krassner and Allison Hettinger, students of Professor David Long, are newly graduated from the Motion Picture Science program at the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. The Motion Picture Science program is a collaboration between the School of Film and Animation and the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science. By joining a core curriculum in practical film-making from the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences and imaging science from the College of Science, this program trains students in the art and science of feature film, television, and animation production.

Motion Picture Science senior Allison Hettinger with the 3D projection setup

Krassner and Hettinger knew School of Film and Animation students lacked the expensive equipment necessary to produce stereoscopic, three-dimensional motion pictures. And so, for their senior project, the two graduating students set about to find a successful, yet economical, approach to enable SoFA film majors to shoot, edit, and screen a convincing and enjoyable digital movie that creates an illusion of depth perception.

“We wanted to create a way for the film students to create 3D movies, from filming, to editing, to viewing,” Hettinger says. “Our project will also help educate the film students in how to make good 3D versus bad 3D movies.”


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Initially, the two seniors created a rig built specifically to mount two Canon digital video cameras that are readily available for any film student. They conducted two shoots with their newly designed rig, taking both qualitative and quantitative test scenes.

Motion Picture Science senior Ian Krassner demonstrating the 3D camera rig

In order to edit the footage, Hettinger and Krassner took the simplest route and used the Final Cut Pro software available in the film school computer lab. Then, through many hours of trial and error, they found a way to view the footage in anaglyph—images that provide a stereoscopic 3D effect—on the computer to allow students to edit in 2D or 3D.

To view the 3D clips, they set up a rig with dual projectors and polarized lenses. They tested many sets of images on the silver screen, which they bought with a portion of the $2,000 in seed money provided by the CIAS. In the course of developing this complex workflow on a budget, Krassner and Hettinger gained a better understanding of the pivotal concepts under debate in the industry concerning good vs. bad quality 3D filmmaking.

One of the biggest unexpected challenges, both students say, involved discussions around budget issues, equipment purchases, and waiting for deliveries. “It’s the real-life learning about working with time, space, and budget limitations, while choosing when to maneuver around unforeseen roadblocks and when we needed to just tackle the problems head on,” Krassner says.

While their results to date are not quite at the level of the 3D version of Avatar, the legacy is real at CIAS. Next year’s seniors are already designing their own projects piggybacking on this year’s work. Future students will be able to borrow the 3D film equipment along with a book of guidelines authored by Hettinger and Krassner. 

“You know it works when the film students see what they’re doing and want to get their hands on it,” Long says.

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RIT Sponsored Research garners $52.7 million in funding

Portfolio up 12 percent; records for new awards, proposals and number of investigators

Nov. 10, 2014
Ellen Rosen

Rochester Institute of Technology’s sponsored research portfolio grew by 12 percent in fiscal year 2014, reaching $52.7 million in funding.

RIT received a record 410 new awards in the fiscal year 2014 from a variety of state, federal, corporate and foundation sponsors. Half the funding came from federal sources, with the National Science Foundation alone providing $11 million in funding, up from $7.4 million the previous year.

“This is an indicator of how RIT continues to mature as a research university,” said Ryne Raffaelle, RIT vice president of research and associate provost. “I am encouraged by how our research portfolio has evolved in new areas such as health-related technology and computing and information security as we continue to grow some of our traditional areas such as sustainability and imaging science.”

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The success comes as RIT is on the verge of moving into the national research category as assigned by the Carnegie Foundation, which U.S. News & World Report uses to classify universities. National research classification is based on the number of Ph.D. degrees awarded. RIT had a record 29 graduates earn their doctorates this past spring. A doctoral program in engineering began this fall, becoming RIT’s seventh Ph.D. program and joining astrophysics, color science, computing and information sciences, microsystems engineering, imaging science and sustainability.

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Original Source: University News