Physics Faculty Receives $105,000 Funding from NASA

Ka-Wah Wong (Assistant Professor of Physics) was awarded a total of $105,400 for two separate proposals that were awarded time on NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory for high-energy astrophysics research.

Dr. Ka-Wah Wong, Assistant Professor of Physics, was awarded a total of $105,400 for two separate proposals that were awarded time on NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.  The research involves X-ray observations of the Starburst Galaxy, M82, and the galaxy cluster, Abell 2259, two of the most energetic objects in the universe.  The funding will support undergraduate student research projects in the astrophyiscs group in the Physics Department and SUNY Brockport.

Starburst galaxies have the highest star formation rates of any galaxies, forming stars up to a thousand times faster than in a galaxy like our own Milky Way.  The most massive stars use up their nuclear fuel quickly and explode within a few tens of millions of years.  The frequent supernova explosions arising in the starburst galaxies drive ‘super-winds’ that sweep gas from the centers of the galaxies to their outskirts, providing a feedback mechanism that can heat up and enrich the heavy-element content of the gas in nearby galaxies.  Although the hot superwinds have been detected in X-rays at the centers of the galaxies, they have been difficult to find in the outskirts.  Dr. Wong will make use of X-ray data taken with Chandra and other X-ray observatories to study the nature of the superwinds in the outskirts of M82, which will allow an evaluation of the total energy budget in the hot gas galaxies.

Galaxy clusers are collections of galaxies bound together by gravity; the larges of them contain thousands of galaxies, each averaging a hundred billion Suns.  Stars in galaxies only contribute a few percent of the mass of a cluster, and the space between the galaxies is filled with gas heated to millions of degrees that makes up another ten percent of the mass.  This gas would otherwise escapte if it weren’t for the presence of ‘dark matter’ that makes up most of the mass of a cluster.  Dark matter does not emit light and hence can only be inferred from its gravitational effect on ‘normal’ matter, such as the hot gas that can be seen at X-ray wavelengths, and its exact nature remains an active area of research.  X-ray observations of this hot gas have shown that galaxy clusters can be used to understand plasma physics in extreme environments, constrain dark matter properties, as well as provide an important probe of the evolution of the universe.  Dr. Wong will use Chandra and other observatories to learn about the physical properties of the hot plasma near the outskirts of Abell 2259, where the physical conditions are still poorly understood.

In working with Dr. Wong, students at SUNY Brockport will be among the first to witness some of the most energetic phenomena in the universe.  They will learning frontier science while they gain skills in statistical data analysis and computer coding.  The funding will also provide support for them to present their results at regional and national conferences.

The awards will be administered by The Research Foundation for SUNY at SUNY Brockport.

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Laura Merkl:

Posted: March 19, 2021