Department of Astronomy

Faculty and Staff Research

Professor R. Earle Luck's research interests include studies of stellar and galactic chemical evolution, stellar abundance analysis, isotopic abundance ratios, spectrum synthesis techniques, and spectroscopic data reduction techniques. Recent projects include studies of local dwarfs and giants. Details on the dwarfs and giants can be found at the Nearby Stars Project Database. Current work involves studies of the distribution of metals in the disk of the Milky Way using Cepheid variables as a probe.

Professor Stacy McGaugh studies galaxies, cosmology, and the missing mass problem. He uses ground-based and space telescopes to study galaxies in optical, infrared, and radio wavelengths. He is interested in galaxy scaling relations (e.g., the baryonic Tully-Fisher relation; the mass discrepancy-acceleration relation) and in a class of objects known as low surface brightness galaxies. These diffuse objects tell us a great deal about galaxy formation and evolution.

Professor Chris Mihos uses observational data from ground- and space-based telescopes combined with state-of-the-art computer modeling to study the evolution of galaxies and galaxy clusters. Using Case's wide-field Burrell Schmidt telescope, Mihos is surveying the nearby Virgo cluster of galaxies to find the ghostly intracluster light that traces the history of galaxy collisions inside the cluster. Computer simulations of galaxy clusters are being used to probe how these intracluster stars are torn out of cluster galaxies, while other simulations have focused on mergers of galaxies, the triggering of starburst galaxies and quasars, and the transformation of spiral galaxies into ellipticals. This merger-driven evolution of galaxies is also the focus of studies using the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes which provide a detailed view of colliding galaxies in the local universe.

Professor Heather Morrison is an observational astronomer whose main research interest is the formation of galaxies. She uses observations of old stars in our own and nearby galaxies to reconstruct their history. A major project is the SDSS-II SEGUE survey for stars in the outer halo of the Milky Way, which is mapping the outer parts of the Galaxy in much more detail than previosly possible, and detecting streams of stars which have been pulled off by tidal forces as small satellites are captured by the Milky Way. She also works on the formation and evolution of the Milky Way's nearest large neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy.

Professor Idit Zehavi's research interests include cosmology and the large-scale structure of the universe, galaxy formation and evolution, and cosmic flows. She is an astrophysicist working at the interface of theory and observations, performing phenomenological studies using large surveys of galaxies. In recent years she has been extensively involved with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), an ambitious ongoing survey aimed at mapping a quarter of the sky. She is primarily focused on studying the clustering properties of galaxies and their implications on cosmological models, galaxy formation, and the relationship between galaxies and dark matter.

Observatory Manager Paul Harding combines an interest in observations which constrain galaxy formation via the stellar fossil record with a broad background in telescope, instrument, and detector design. Students can gain hands-on experience in projects as diverse as the recent optimization of the Burrell Schmidt telescopes optical assembly, or working on the controller electronics for the Schmidt's wide field camera.

Graduate Student Research

Aaron Watkins is investigating the optical properties of the faint outer regions of nearby galaxies using the Burrell Schmidt telescope to probe the most difficult to detect indicators of their formation histories.

Jay Franck is interested in how structure within the Universe assembles and the processes that drive galaxy cluster evolution. By identifying galaxy clusters at redshifts greater than 1.5 (~10 billion years in the past), near-infrared observations can be compared to rest-frame visual wavelengths of present day clusters, which allows inferences to be made about the age and evolution of stellar populations in cluster galaxies.

Undergraduate Student Research

Many of our undergraduate students are active in research projects within the department. Examples of previous and ongoing undergraduate research programs include:

Sean Linden ('14) developed computer simulations of the interactions between the spiral galaxy M101 and its companion galaxies, studying the effects of encounters on the evolution of M101's disk (w/ Mihos).

Wesley Peters ('14) conducted a feasibility study for using new SDSS-III data to investige the Fundamental Plane relation for early-type galaxies at a redshift of 0.5 (w/ Zehavi).

Lauren Nicholson ('12) investigated the nature of faint red galaxies in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey -- galaxiesthat exhibit interesting clustering properties -- using the Galaxy Zoo public classification database. (w/ Zehavi).

Chelsea Spengler ('12) has worked on measuring the photometric and star forming properties of M101's extended disk (w/ Mihos).

Tom Connor ('11) developed techniques to correct deep imaging datasets for contamination due to internal reflections (w/ Mihos).

Emily Joseph ('10) studied the connection between low surface brightness tidal features and intracluster globular clusters in the Virgo Cluster of galaxies (w/ Mihos).

Colin Slater ('09) has worked on engineering upgrades to the Burrell Schmidt (w/ Harding), and developing new algorithms for quantifying and correcting the stellar point spread function and internal reflections on the Burrell Schmidt (w/ Mihos and Harding).

Steven Janowiecki ('08) has worked on studies of intracluster light in the Virgo cluster (w/ Mihos). He has also been studying morphological properties of galaxies in the SDSS (w/ Zehavi).

Lucy Frey ('08) used computer simulations to study the evolution of intracluster light (w/ Mihos). She also worked on the structure of the Milky Way, looking for streams of stars in its halo (w/ Morrison).

Dave Starinshak ('07) worked on discovering and modeling star streams in the Milky Way halo (w/ Morrison).

Andrew Schechtman-Rook ('07) worked on studies of the Milky Way using the SDSSII SEGUE database (w/ Morrison), and is currently studying the formation of intracluster light in N-body simulations (w/ Mihos).

Dan Oravetz ('06) worked on studies of the globular clusters in the Andromeda galaxy (w/ Morrison) and on Case's Burrell Schmidt telescope (w/ Harding)

Stuart Robbins ('05) worked on the search for intra-group planetary nebulae in the nearby M81 group of galaxies (w/ Feldmeier).

Colin Wallace ('05) has used computer models of galaxy mergers to probe how well kinematic tracers can describe the mass distribution of elliptical galaxies (w/ Mihos).

Stephanie Bush ('04) studied how the evolution of tidal debris in mergers of galaxies depends on the properties of the galactic disks and dark matter halos (w/ Mihos). She also worked for a summer with Dr. Eric Wilcots at the University of Wisconsin studying the gas distribution around dwarf galaxies.

Bonnie Stayer ('04) has used phometric data to determine the ages of the globular clusters in the disk of M31 (w/ Morrison).

Steve Rodney ('03) has worked on imaging the intracluster light in galaxy clusters (w/ Morrison and Mihos).

Cameron McBride ('03) has worked on computational models of the formation of galaxy clusters and intracluster light. He also has worked on a variety of web-based educational projects, including the JavaLab (w/ Mihos)

Amanda Kepley ('02) has done research on the longitudinal dynamics of particle accelerators at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory with Dr. Chandra Bhat and on far-infrared polarimeters at University of Chicago with Dr. Roger Hildebrand. She continues to work with Professor Morrison on the Spaghetti Project.

Nathan Kaib('02) developed techniques to produce artificial images of galaxy cluster models in order to quantify the presence of intracluster light in galaxy clusters (w/ Mihos).

Becky Stanek ('01) studied the properties dynamical models of triaxial galaxies with central black holes (w/ Mihos). She spent a summer at Space Telescope Science Institute in their summer student program, working for Dr. Torsten Boeker, and continues to work with Dr. Boeker and Dr. Roeland van der Marel on a project investigating the nature of nuclear star clusters in spiral galaxies.

Jackie Monkiewicz ('98) worked on imaging the extremely faint light around nearby galaxies, in particular the stellar halo around the nearby galaxy NGC 5907 (w/ Morrison).

Research Facilities

The Burrell Schmidt wide field telescope, 100% owned and operated by Case Astronomy, is located at Kitt Peak National Observatory in southwest Arizona. It is used for deep wide-field imaging and surveys. More information can be found on the Observatory page.

Case is a partner institute in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey project.

The department runs an extensive computing network of Linux and Windows workstations. We also have access to CWRU's heterogenous high performance computing cluster.

The Astronomy Library, a branch of Case's University Library system, has been a part of the observatory for over a hundred years. It houses a strong collection of research materials, study space, and computers for accessing electronically available literature and databases.