Students to Use New Grant for Astrophysics Research in Taiwan

Submitted by SUNY Oswego

OSWEGO — The National Science Foundation has awarded SUNY Oswego Faculty Fellow Shashi Kanbur a $138,545 grant to provide students interested in astrophysics opportunities to do research at a Global Laboratory partner in Taiwan.

The grant, titled “Astrophysics International Research Experience for Students in Taiwan: Connections Between East and West,” starts this summer. It will enable Kanbur and Ching Hung “Jean” Hsiao, adjunct instructor of Chinese, to mentor six students each of the next three years on research trips to the Graduate Institute of Astronomy at National Central University in Jhongli, Taiwan.

Student researchers from Oswego and other Upstate colleges and universities will advance work pioneered at SUNY Oswego on a more accurate means for determining the size scale of the universe, as well as several other groundbreaking projects related to Kanbur’s longtime research of Cepheid variable stars.

“The projects the undergraduates will be doing are all absolutely on the cutting edge,” said Kanbur, an associate professor of physics working with the college president’s office as a Faculty Fellow.

The Global Laboratory is SUNY Oswego’s innovative undergraduate research experience offering students hands-on, immersive problem-solving opportunities at international laboratories in promising fields of study — science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“The last couple of years, we set up a number of agreements in Brazil, India, Taiwan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and we have been in the process of developing collaborative relationships with other places,” Kanbur said. “But now we want to take that further and have — hopefully funded — research experiences for our undergraduates.”

Learning language, culture

Kanbur said one of his former Ph.D. students at the University of Massachusetts, Chow-Choong Ngeow, a faculty member at the Graduate Institute of Astronomy, has been instrumental in advancing the Global Laboratory partnership in Taiwan. Ngeow and Kanbur collaborated on researching pulsating Cepheid variable stars. Students will help analyze unique datasets that “show great promise for a much more accurate extragalactic distance scale,” Kanbur said.

The students accepted for research opportunities in Taiwan will come from STEM fields such as physics, math, engineering and computer science. They will study Mandarin, the most predominant national language, and Taiwanese culture at SUNY Oswego for three weeks under Hsiao, beginning May 23. They’ll continue their studies during a six-week experience in Taiwan, June 25 to Aug. 8, and take several excursions to learn more about the island nation’s culture and history.

Student research in Taiwan will take place under Kanbur, Ngeow and perhaps other Taiwanese professors. The students will work on analyzing datasets and doing other tasks in connection with trailblazing astrophysics projects, several of them pioneered at SUNY Oswego.

Kanbur is no stranger to research-abroad projects with undergraduates, dating to a 2008-10 NSF grant to accompany a total of 17 students to collaborate with astronomers, engineers, computer scientists and other faculty at the Federal University of Santa Catarina and the Brazilian Laboratory of Astrophysics. Much of the work involved software development to finish roboticizing a 40-centimeter telescope based on data analyzed at Oswego and elsewhere. Similar work may occur at the Lulin Observatory in Taiwan starting this summer.

The Taiwan grant marks the latest in the college’s efforts to support undergraduate travel to and research in Global Laboratory nations. It comes on the heels of a recent agreement with the SUNY system and Banco Santander to fund student research and travel at Global Laboratory partner institutions in Brazil.

‘Exciting idea’

President Deborah F. Stanley has called the Global Laboratory “an investment in our common future. The Global Laboratory will produce a new generation of scientifically and internationally skilled problem solvers, empowered to meet the challenges before us.”

Interim Provost Lorrie Clemo asked Kanbur to become involved in the Global Laboratory agreements and grant proposals based on his work in Brazil.

“I’m very passionate about my research,” Kanbur said, “but I have been willing to cut down on it somewhat to set the Global Laboratory in motion, because I find it a very, very exciting idea.”