UCF Physics

Category Archives: 2007

UCF Student to Help Upgrade Telescope at the Vatican near Rome

Posted: Tuesday Jan. 29th, 2008

Talk about your plum winter break assignment. Nate Lust, a graduate student at the University of Central Florida, is headed to the Pope’s summer home to help modernize a telescope built in 1935.

The Vatican Observatory is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world. It is located at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, just outside Rome. The observatory has five telescopes.

Lust, who helped install and fully automate a new telescope at the Robinson Observatory at UCF’s main campus in August, will be working with astronomers at the Vatican to upgrade one of the telescopes there using computer software as well as some customized hardware. He will also act as a consultant to determine what else will be needed to better use the telescope for observations. A camera system to capture images is one possible addition. “I’m a pretty even keel person, but I’m a little excited,” Lust said. “I may not only get to meet the pope, but the fact is that 1,000 years from now when I’m gone, the telescope will still be there and I will have been the one that worked on it. That’s pretty cool.”

The project came about because of a conversation between Dan Britt, director of the UCF observatory, and Guy Consolmagno, vice director of the Vatican Observatory. They chatted during the 2007 Planetary Sciences Conference sponsored by UCF in Orlando.

“I was telling a fellow researcher about what Nate had done for us here,” said Britt, an associate astronomy professor. “We got to talking, and he asked if we could send him over to render them some assistance. This would be a great way to start a new collaboration with a top institution”

Britt has conducted several research projects with the Vatican Observatory, and he participated in the NASA’s Mars Pathfinder mission. He has visited Castel Gandolfo twice for research with the Vatican astronomers.

Lust jumped at the chance, especially because the cost of the trip is covered through grants from Florida Space Grant and Britt’s NASA research projects. Lust will live at the Papal Palace while he completes the work. He departs Jan. 2 and is expected to return in mid-February.

Once the work at the Vatican is complete, Lust will continue working at the Robinson Observatory. In the fall, he begins his graduate work. The partnership with the Vatican means that he will have access to the telescopes there, which will help him complete a study on binary asteroids that eventually will become part of his Ph.D. thesis.

Lust’s future goals seem plausible, especially if he does a good job in Italy and can use the pope as a reference on his resume.

“In the long term, if we build a base on the moon, I’d like to install a telescope there,” Lust said. “It’s planned for something like 2020. That gives me time to get my Ph.D., get known in my field and be ready.”

Lust also would like to teach, perhaps as part of the growing Planetary Sciences Group at UCF. The group has grown from one professor to six, including well-respected astronomers with several NASA research grants worth millions of dollars. Professors in the department have been involved in observations of planets via NASA’s Spitzer telescope and high-profile missions such as Stardust, Deep Impact and Mars Pathfinder.

New Telescope Debuts at UCF’s Robinson Observatory, Public Invited to Viewing

Date: Thursday Sep. 06th, 2007

The University of Central Florida will publicly unveil its new, custom-built 20-inch telescope on Wednesday, Aug. 29.

The cutting-edge Ritchey-Chretien telescope allows professors and students to conduct astronomical research that previously had not been possible on campus. The telescope, housed in the Robinson Observatory, gives researchers access to observations either at the dome or via the Internet. Only a few universities have working observatories on campus; the presence of one at UCF provides students and the general public with a rare opportunity.

“It’s very rare to have this kind of access,” said Humberto Campins, a provost research professor at UCF who leads the Planetary Sciences Group. “Most places don’t do remote viewing. It gives our students and faculty a wonderful opportunity for research, another tool to do our work.”

The community is invited to Wednesday’s public viewing, which will be held after dark weather permitting. Participants will be able to see the stars from inside the dome, and several smaller telescopes will be set up outside the dome for those wishing to use more traditional telescopes. After Wednesday’s viewing, the observatory goes back to its regular schedule. It will be open to the public the first and third Wednesdays of the month through winter.

The Ritchey telescope is a dozen times more powerful than the 26-inch Schmidt Cassegrian reflecting telescope that it replaced. The new telescope allows for sharper viewing and the ability to photograph faraway stars and other space bodies in great details while filtering out a lot of space noise including light and radio waves that disrupt imaging.

The new telescope is a mesh of sophisticated lenses and engines, a variety of computer software, photographic instruments, a weather station and the Internet. It was designed by students and professors to address the specific needs of the department.

The refurbishing of the observatory and new telescope was funded with a $150,000 grant from the Provost’s Office, money from the College of Sciences and private donations. The telescope is the most visible example of UCF’s efforts to build the Planetary and Space Science Group at a university that already boasts several innovative professors who work with NASA on a regular basis.

The group has grown over the past four years from having one faculty member to six, including well-respected astronomers with several NASA research grants worth millions of dollars. Professors in the department have been involved a variety of missions from observations of planets via NASA’s Spitzer telescope to such high-profile missions as Stardust, Deep Impact and Pathfinder.

Nate Lust, a UCF student from Titusville, helps run the new telescope and conducts trouble shooting if necessary. He said he is excited because he will be able to complete some asteroid observations that would not have been possible with the previous one.

“It’s very exciting for me,” Lust said. “It’s not very often that you get to set up a telescope yourself. You learn more by doing it and the power this gives us for research is just amazing.”

UCF Nanoscience Technology Center Completes Renovations

Date: Friday Jun. 15th, 2007

Nanoscience has a large presence at the University of Central Florida and on Friday researchers, students, university officials and guests celebrated the completion of a renovated research facility dedicated to science at the sub-molecular level.

UCF’s Nanoscience Technology Center (NSTC), located in the Central Florida Research Park, is a 35,000 square-foot-facility dedicated to advancing research in the field, which has been growing rapidly since the early 2000s.

Nanoscience and nanotechnology deal with materials, devices and systems on a nanometer scale, which is smaller than a single strand of hair or between 1-100 billionth of a meter in size.

The center, which began as a $4 million initiative in 2003, now houses researchers from a variety of disciplines. Chemists, physicists, engineers and biomolecular and optical scientists are some of the specialists that conduct research at the center.

Located on the fourth floor of the Research Pavilion building, the NSTC features a one-of-a-kind hybrid lab where scientists can integrate electrical and neuronal systems to model circuits with neurons from patients with brain disorders such as Parkinson?s and Alzheimer?s disease in hopes of finding a cure. Another project is focusing on spinal cord injuries and the mechanism that keeps some patients from walking.

Other research at the NSTC is using quantum dot nanoparticles to enable physicians to visualize tumors at an earlier stage.

James J. Hickman, director of the center, said that nanoscience is already impacting Central Florida?s economy through the development of a professional workforce in the field and partnerships with area companies such as Raydiance and Vax Design. The center has received millions of dollars in research grants since its inception.

Cassini ‘CAT Scan’ Maps Clumps In Saturn’s Rings, Says UCF Researcher, Team

Date: Tuesday May. 22nd, 2007

Saturn’s largest and most densely packed ring is composed of dense clumps of particles separated by nearly empty gaps, according to new findings from NASA?s Cassini spacecraft.

These clumps in Saturn’s B ring are neatly organized and constantly colliding, which surprised scientists.

Previous interpretations assumed the ring particles were distributed uniformly and so scientists underestimated the total mass of Saturn’s rings. The mass may actually be two or more times previous estimates.

“These results will help us understand the overall question of the age and hence the origin of Saturn’s rings,” said Josh Colwell, assistant professor of physics at the University of Central Florida and a member of the Cassini ultraviolet imaging spectrograph team publishing its results in the journal Icarus this month.

Principal investigator Larry Esposito at the University of Colorado, Boulder is fascinated with the findings.

“The rings are different from the picture we had in our minds,” Esposito said. “We originally thought we would see a uniform cloud of particles. Instead we find that the particles are clumped together with empty spaces in between. If you were flying under Saturn’s rings in an airplane, you would see these flashes of sunlight come through the gaps, followed by dark and so forth. This is different from flying under a uniform cloud of particles.”

The observations were made using the spectrograph aboard the Cassini spacecraft, which left earth in 1997 on a mission to collect detailed data about Saturn, its rings and moons. Cassini — the largest interplanetary spacecraft launched from earth — entered Saturn’s orbit in July 2004, and scientists have been using sophisticated equipment on board to view and analyze images.

Boulder and UCF scientists observed the brightness of a star as the rings passed in front of the star on multiple occasions. This provides a measurement of the amount of ring material between the spacecraft and the star.

“Combining many of these occultations at different viewing geometries is like doing a CAT scan of the rings,” said Colwell. “By studying the brightness of stars as the rings pass in front of them, we are able to map the ring structure in 3-D and learn more about the shape, spacing and orientation of clusters of particles.”

The observations confirm that the gravitational attraction of ring particles to each other creates clumps, or “self-gravity wakes.” If the clumps were farther from Saturn, they might continue to grow into a moon. But because these clumps are so close to Saturn, their different speeds around Saturn counteract this gravitational attraction so that the clumps get stretched like taffy and pulled apart. The clumps are constantly forming and coming apart once they get to be about 30 to 50 meters (about 100 to 150 feet) across.

“At any given time, most particles are going to be in one of the clumps, but the particles keep moving from clump to clump as clumps are destroyed and new ones are formed,” added Colwell.

Colwell is a professor in UCF?s growing program in planetary sciences. He joined the faculty because of the “opportunity to be involved in growing a new planetary sciences program.”

He is a DeLand native and earned his bachelor’s degree at Stetson University before doing advanced study at the University of Colorado, where he met Esposito. Colwell’s area of expertise is planetary dynamics and his research focus is determining the origins of the solar system.

A picture of the rings based on the team’s results is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini ,http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://lasp.colorado.edu/cassini.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The ultraviolet imaging spectrograph was built at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where the team is based.

UCF Professor Finds That Hottest Measured Extrasolar Planet is 3,700 Degrees

Date: Wednesday May. 09th, 2007

University of Central Florida Physics Professor Joseph Harrington and his team have measured the hottest planet ever at 3, 700 degrees Fahrenheit.

“HD 149026b is simply the most exotic, bizarre planet,” Harrington said. “It’s pretty small, really dense, and now we find that it’s extremely hot.”

Using Spitzer, NASA’s infrared space telescope, Harrington and his team observed the tiny planet disappear behind its star and reappear. Although the planet cannot be seen separately from the star, the dimming of the light that reached Spitzer told the scientists how much light the hot planet emits. From this they deduced the temperature on the side of the planet facing its star. The team’s findings were published online in Nature today.

Discovered in 2005, HD 149026b is a bit smaller than Saturn, making it the smallest extrasolar planet with a measured size. However, it is more massive than Saturn, and is suspected of having a core 70-90 times the mass of the entire Earth. It has more heavy elements (material other than hydrogen and helium) than exist in our whole solar system, outside the Sun.

There are more than 230 extrasolar planets, but this is only the fourth of these to have its temperature measured directly. It is simple to explain the temperatures of the other three planets. However, for HD 149026b to reach 3700 degrees, it must absorb essentially all the starlight that reaches it. This means the surface must be blacker than charcoal, which is unprecedented for planets. The planet would also have to re-radiate all that energy in the infrared.

“The high heat would make the planet glow slightly, so it would look like an ember in space, absorbing all incoming light but glowing a dull red,” said Harrington.

Drake Deming, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, and a co-author of the Nature paper, thinks theorists are going to be scratching their heads over this one.

“This planet is off the temperature scale that we expect for planets, so we don’t really understand what’s going on,” Deming said. “There may be more big surprises in the future.”

Harrington’s team on this project also included Statia Luszcz from the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research at Cornell University, who is now a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. Sara Seager, a theorist in the Departments of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences and of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Jeremy Richardson, an observer from the Exoplanet and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory at NASA Goddard, round out the team.

Harrington is no stranger to significant findings. His research was published in Science magazine in October 2006 and in Nature in February 2007. In the first of those papers, Harrington’s team used Spitzer to make the first measurement of day and night temperature variation on a different extrasolar planet. That research found that a Jupiter-like gas-giant planet circling very close to its sun is as hot as fire on one side, and potentially as cold as ice on the other, a condition that may also hold for HD 149026b.

February’s publication documented a landmark achievement. In a project led by Richardson, the group captured enough light from an exoplanet to spread it apart into a spectrum and find signatures of molecules in the planet’s atmosphere – a key step toward being able to detect life on alien worlds.

Harrington’s team fared well in this year’s stiff competition for observing time on NASA’s orbiting infrared facility. They will observe HD 149026b using all of Spitzer’s instruments in the coming year, to gain a better understanding of the planet’s atmosphere.
Harrington is a professor in UCF’s growing program in planetary sciences.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

UCF Optics Professor Peter Delfyett to Lead National Society of Black Physicists

Date: Monday Mar. 26th, 2007

Peter Delfyett, a University of Central Florida professor of optics, physics and electrical and computer engineering, has been named president-elect of the National Society of Black Physicists.

The society, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, promotes the professional development of African-American physicists within the international science community and in society. The organization also seeks to develop and support efforts to increase opportunities for African-Americans in physics and to increase the visibility of their scientific work.

Delfyett will serve as the society’s president-elect for one year and then as president for two years. He was selected during the society’s annual conference Feb. 20 to 25 in Boston.

Delfyett, who has taught at UCF for 13 years, holds a University Trustee Chair in the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers, or CREOL, at the College of Optics and Photonics. He has served as editor-in-chief of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Journal of Selected Topics in Quantum Electronics. He is a fellow of the Optical Society of America.

In 2001, Delfyett won UCF’s Pegasus Professor Award, the highest honor the university gives to a faculty member who demonstrates excellence in teaching, research and service. He has published more than 400 articles in journals and conference proceedings, and he has received 20 U.S. patents.

Delfyett and his team of doctoral students and scientists are trying to increase the speed at which data can be transmitted through semiconductor chips like the ones used in computers. Improving that speed would help computers download information from the Internet much faster and make computer networks work faster.

Leonard Kisimbi, a native of Kenya who now lives in Orlando and is one of the graduate students in Delfyett’s research group, received a Best Student Poster Award from the National Society of Black Physicists during the conference in Boston.

Kisimbi, a graduate of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, is working on developing a compact, electrically efficient and high-powered semiconductor diode laser for high-resolution Light Detection And Ranging, commonly known as LIDAR.

UCF Professor Part of Landmark Achievement Key to Detecting Life on Other Planets

Date: Thursday Feb. 22nd, 2007

For the first time ever, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has captured enough light from an exoplanet, a planet outside our solar system, to spread it apart and find signatures of molecules in the planet’s atmosphere.

University of Central Florida Physics Professor Joseph Harrington was a member of one of three teams that made similar observations. The landmark achievement is a key step toward being able to detect life on alien worlds — and comes years before astronomers had thought possible.

Spitzer, a space-based infrared telescope, obtained the detailed data, called spectra, for two different gas exoplanets. Called HD 209458b and HD 189733b, these so-called “hot Jupiters” are, like Jupiter, made of gas. But the planets orbit much closer to their suns than Jupiter — or even Mercury.

The data collected indicate the planets are dry and cloudier than predicted, something theorists had not anticipated.

“The theorists’ heads were spinning when they saw the data,” said Jeremy Richardson, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who led Harrington’s team. Their findings appear in the Feb. 22 edition of Nature magazine. “It is virtually impossible for water, in the form of vapor, to be absent from the planet, so it must be hidden.”

Two other teams of astronomers using Spitzer made similar findings regarding these planets. These teams were led by Carl Grillmair, of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, and Mark R. Swain, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Both teams have articles forthcoming in other scholarly journals.

The technique used to analyze the planets creates a spectrum. A spectrograph splits light from an object into its different wavelengths, just as a prism turns sunlight into a rainbow. The resulting pattern of light reveals “fingerprints” of chemicals making up the object. Until now, spectra were only available for planets within the solar system. The exoplanets Spitzer looked at are trillions of miles away.

In the future, astronomers hope to measure spectra for smaller, rocky planets beyond our solar system. This would allow them to look for evidence of life — molecules key to the existence of life as we know it, such as oxygen and possibly even chlorophyll.

“The only terrestrial planets we know of are the four in our solar system,” said Harrington, of UCF. “Today’s observations are a major step in developing the tools we’ll need to measure and analyze the spectra of tomorrow’s terrestrial exoplanets.”

Richardson’s team, in a paper led by Harrington and published in Science magazine in October, used Spitzer to make the first measurement of day and night temperatures on a different exoplanet. That research found that a Jupiter-like gas giant planet circling very close to its sun is as hot as fire on one side and potentially as cold as ice on the other.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For artist concepts and more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer andwww.spitzer.caltech.edu/Media.

Nano News: Scientists Manipulate Atoms on a Rough 3-D Surface

Date: Friday Feb. 09th, 2007

Athens, Ohio – Ohio University nanoscientists have used a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to manipulate individual atoms on a rough terrain. It is the first atom manipulation of its kind done on a three-dimensional surface.

Only a select group of scientists have manipulated individual atoms because the procedure requires atomic scale precision and control. Even greater precision and accuracy is required for atom manipulation on rough surfaces.

“This technique is very useful to produce single atoms for atomic constructions. It also helps us understand one of the most fundamental subjects, interaction between the matters,” said Saw-Wai Hla, the lead researcher and an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Ohio University. The research was published in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters.

To perform the manipulation, the researchers coat a custom-built, low-temperature STM tip with silver atoms. Some of the silver atoms are deposited by gently touching the tip to the silver surface. A three-dimensional image of the silver cluster is taken to determine ideal target zones for atom removal. Once ideal areas have been located, the silver-coated tip approaches the silver cluster — but they never make contact. Approaching the tip within less than a tenth of a nanometer of the cluster loosens the top atom. Moving the tip laterally across the surface drags the loosened atom and results in extraction.

The STM tip does not have to come in contact with the cluster because close proximity of the atoms causes reduced binding. This concept is based on theory proposed by University of Central Florida researchers led by Professor Talat Rahman.

The research was funded by the United States Department of Energy. Hla is a member of the Nanoscale and Quantum Phenomena Institute (NQPI) of Ohio University. The co-authors of this paper are Aparna Deshpande, D.P Acharya and Joel Vaughn of Ohio University and H. Yildirim, A. Kara and T.S. Rahman of the University of Central Florida.