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August 2017



CIERA Director Vicky Kalogera Appointed CIFAR Senior Fellow

Professor Kalogera has been appointed as a Senior Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) program in Gravity and the Extreme Universe. CIFAR is a global research organization comprised of over 400 fellows, scholars, and advisors from more than 100 institutions in 17 countries which brings together “outstanding researchers to work in interdisciplinary, global networks to address the most important questions of our time.”


CIERA Postdoc Alum Carl Rodriguez Featured in Northwestern Magazine

CIERA Postdoctoral Alumnus Carl Rodriguez ’16 PhD was included in a Northwestern Magazine cover feature showcasing the work of doctoral students from many disciplines across Northwestern. Carl studies the dynamics of black holes, and works closely with CIERA faculty member Fred Rasio. Carl is currently a Pappalardo Fellow in Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Continue to the Northwestern Magazine article.


New Issue of “LIGO Magazine” Available

The eleventh issue of LIGO Magazine is now available for download. The issue focuses on LIGO’s third detection of two merging black holes during observation run, “O2”. Check out past issues of LIGO magazine.


CIERA Pop-up Eclipse Viewing at Tech Allows Hundreds to Enjoy Rare Sky Event

On August 21, the total solar eclipse fascinated people across the country. Astronomers from CIERA travelled to Wyoming, Kansas, Idaho, Missouri, and southern Illinois to enjoy the event with friends and family along the path of totality. On the day of the eclipse, CIERA hosted an unadvertised pop-up viewing on the front courtyard of the Technological Institute on Sheridan Road, attracting at least 650 people. Graduate students David Goldfinger, Kyle Kremer, and Shi Ye set up two telescopes specially outfitted with white light solar filters and eyepieces to make them safe. CIERA staff gave out safe viewing eclipse glasses and CIERA bookmarks.

Read the Office for Research eclipse article featuring CIERA’s Shane Larson.
View CIERA's 2017 Solar Eclipse Viewing Guide.
Watch CIERA Postdoctoral Associate, Deanne Coppejans, discuss the science behind the eclipse on NBC Chicago (1:02).

Click pictures to view larger images.


Astronomy on Tap Hosts Eclipse-themed Event at Begyle Brewing

In anticipation of the 2017 total solar eclipse, Astronomy on Tap Chicago hosted 100 astronomy and beer-loving friends at Begyle Brewing at an event called “Solar Eclipse of the Heart” on August 14. Astronomy on Tap is a series of informal gatherings at area bars and restaurants where audiences hear scientific talks, receive updates on the latest astronomy news, and play rounds of space-themed trivia with prizes. CIERA graduate students and postdocs organize the events, which are free and open to the public.

At Begyle Brewing, graduate student Cody Dirks and postdoctoral fellow Aaron Geller each gave eclipse-related talks. Cody helped the audience understand and prepare for the 2017 eclipse, while Aaron talked about the fate of our sun in the distant future. The Astronomy on Tap team gave out 100 pairs of CIERA eclipse safe-viewing glasses.

Stay tuned to Astronomy on Tap’s Facebook and Twitter for upcoming events and talk topics (trivia hints, too!). Check out the Chicago Tribune article featuring quotes from Cody Dirks about the eclipse and Astronomy on Tap.

Click pictures to view larger images.


2017 REU Students Present Their Research at Annual Poster Session

CIERA’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program provides students with the chance to pursue an astrophysics-based interdisciplinary research project in collaboration with Northwestern faculty. This year, 13 exceptional students were selected and funded by NSF to spend their summer researching at the University, and learning technical skills that will serve them in their future academic and professional lives.

On August 17th, 2017, these summer researchers presented their investigations at the REU’s program’s final poster session.

The session served as an opportunity for the students to share their hard work with peers and faculty from many different departments, as well as the chance to practice public speaking before presentations to the public at the Adler Planetarium, and a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Congratulations to these talented students on all they have accomplished!

Please click images above to view a larger version.
Not Pictured: Jayneal Jimenez


July 2017



CIERA REU Students Discover Careers in Astronomy

Continuing an annual tradition, the CIERA Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program hosted a live, online career panel July 31 for our summer undergraduate researchers, organized by Aaron Geller. Dr. Geller referenced a longitudinal study of astronomy graduate students by the American Institute of Physics at the beginning of the discussion. The panelists showcase the wide range of career paths possible for individuals holding astro/physics PhDs.

Evghenii Gaburov : NVIDIA (GPU Software Developer)
Regina Jorgenson : Maria Mitchell Association (Astronomer at a Non-profit)
Jesús Pando : DePaul University (Physics Faculty and Department Chair)
Leslie Sage : Nature (Editor)
Andrew Schechtman-Rook : Capital One Labs (Data Science and Non-investment Finance Professional)
Lucianne Walkowicz : Adler Planetarium (Astronomer at a Museum)

Aaron Geller is director of the Northwestern CIERA REU program and an astronomer jointly appointed at Northwestern and the Adler Planetarium. Geller develops astronomy visualizations and researches star clusters and stellar evolution.

View the archived panel discussion on YouTube.
Check out the longitudinal study of astronomy students by AIP.
Learn more about CIERA’s REU program.

  CIERA's 2017 Summer Student Researchers

For the summer of 2017, 34 summer students (pictured left) will work closely with researchers at CIERA.

13 of these students received funding through CIERA’s Research Experience for Undergraduate’s (REU) program, 12 were funded through an educational grant awarded by NASA to Northwestern University through the Illinois Space Grant Consortium, and the remainder will work individually with CIERA faculty and postdocs.

NASA Undergraduate Research Fellows

3rd Row - Kyle Engelmann, Eric Van Camp, Doug Pinckney
2nd Row - Josemanuel Hernandez, Katie Barnhart, Newlin Weatherford
1st Row - Ally O'Donnell, Nathan Hung, Ben Harpt
Not Pictured: Dany Atallah, Mark Berger, Grant Messner

REU Summer Students

3rd Row - Tanner Leighton, Candice Stauffer, Kris Mortenson, Ethan Marx, Keith Hermanek
2nd Row - Monica Rizzo, Ava Polzin, Nakul Gangolli, José Flores Velazquez
1st Row - Jennifer Ruda, Jayneal Jimenez, Natalia Obrzut, Nick Easton


CIERA Prof. Raffaella Margutti Helps Discover ‘Heavy Metal’ Supernova Rocking Out

Northwestern has issued a press release, Astronomers discover ‘heavy metal’ supernova rocking out: First clear evidence of a metal-rich birthplace for a superluminous supernova, which begins:

“Many rock stars don’t like to play by the rules, and a cosmic one is no exception. A team of astronomers, including Northwestern University’s Raffaella Margutti, has discovered that an extraordinarily bright supernova occurred in a surprising location. This “heavy metal” supernova discovery challenges current ideas of how and where such super-charged supernovas occur.

Supernovas are some of the most energetic events in the universe. When a massive star runs out of fuel, it can collapse onto itself and create a spectacular explosion that briefly outshines an entire galaxy, dispersing vital elements into space.

In the past decade, astronomers have discovered about 50 supernovas, out of the thousands known, that are particularly powerful. These explosions are up to 100 times brighter than other supernovas caused by the collapse of a massive star.”

Please continue to the full Northwestern News Feature.
Read the paper, “The superluminous supernova SN 2017egm in the nearby galaxy NGC 3191: a metal-rich environment can support a typical SLSN evolution” in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
‘Heavy metal’ sheds light on super-charged supernovas” on Futurity.


Intergalactic Transfer: A New Study on How Matter Moves Across the Universe, Led by CIERA Postdoc Daniel Anglés-Alcázar

Northwestern has issued a press release, Milky Way’s origins are not what they seem: Study reveals that half of matter around us likely comes from far-flung galaxies, which begins:

“In a first-of-its-kind analysis, Northwestern University astrophysicists have discovered that, contrary to previously standard lore, up to half of the matter in our Milky Way galaxy may come from distant galaxies. As a result, each one of us may be made in part from extragalactic matter.

Using supercomputer simulations, the research team found a major and unexpected new mode for how galaxies, including our own Milky Way, acquired their matter: intergalactic transfer. The simulations show that supernova explosions eject copious amounts of gas from galaxies, which causes atoms to be transported from one galaxy to another via powerful galactic winds. Intergalactic transfer is a newly identified phenomenon, which simulations indicate will be critical for understanding how galaxies evolve.”

Please continue to the full Northwestern News Feature.
Read the paper, “The cosmic baryon cycle and galaxy mass assembly in the FIRE simulations” in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

July 28, 2017
Half of our bodies' atoms are from a galaxy far, far away: Scientists think they've found the oldest immigrant story of all time” by Christian Cotroneo in Mother Nature Network.

July 27, 2017
The Intergalactic Winds That Built the Milky Way” by Marina Koren in The Atlantic.
Half the atoms inside your body came from across the universe” by Aylin Woodward in New Scientist.
We all could be made of extragalactic space matter from supernova explosions” by Sean Rossman in USA Today.
Intergalactic transfer: Humans made of matter from distant galaxies, study suggests” by Mohak Gupta in India Today.
Humans came from distant galaxies, along with everything else in the Milky Way” by Andrew Griffin in The Independent.
Half of Everything in the Milky Way—Including Humans—Comes From Far Flung Galaxies” by Hannah Osborne in Newsweek.
We Are All Extragalactic Immigrants From Galaxies Far, Far Away” by Brid-Aine Parnell in Forbes.
Half of your body may have formed from a galaxy far, far away” by Gianluca Mezzofiore in Mashable.
We are galaxy stuff” by Deborah Byrd in SPACE.
WE are the aliens: Life on Earth started in far flung galaxy TRANSFORMING Big Bang theory” by Sean Martin in
Up To 50% of Milky Way’s Matter Have Extragalactic Origin, Astrophysicists Say” by staff writer in Sci-News.
People made from alien atoms from a galaxy far, far away” by Tom Bawden in iNews.
Do You Know That The Matter We Are Made Of Came From Another Galaxy” by Shreya Kalra in India Times.
WE ARE MADE OF STARS: Half the atoms in every human are ALIEN in origin and come from outside the Milky Way” by Jasper Hamill in The Sun.
Astronomers find ‘nearly half’ our bodies’ atoms formed outside the Milky Way” by staff writer in
Milky Way's origins are not what they seem” reprint of Northwestern News article in Phys.Org.
Nearly half the Milky Way and everything in it may have formed from distant galaxies” by Libby Plummer in WIRED.
Astroboffins discover that half of the Milky Way's matter comes from other galaxies” by Chris Williams in The Register.
Atoms in your body may come from distant galaxies” by Angus Bezzina in Cosmos.
Humans might be made up of 'extra-galactic matter', along with everything else in the Milky Way” by staff writer in News Nation.
Humans came from distant galaxies, new study claims” by the editor in Ripples Nigeria.
Humans actually come from another galaxy - along with everything else” by Rob Waugh in Yahoo! News UK.
Celestial Wonder: New Research Claims Each of Us to Be Made From Extragalactic Matter” by staff writer in TeCake.
The Milky Way Seems To Have Far Away Origins” by Waleed Javed in Capital Berg.
Our Origins are From Galaxies Up to One Million Light Years Beyond Milky Way -- "We are Extragalactic Immigrants” reprint of Northwestern News article in The Daily Galaxy.
Milky Way May Be Made with Swapped Gas” by Camille M. Carlisle in Sky & Telescope.
Milky Way's origins are not what they seem” by staff writer in Space Daily.
Half of Our Galaxy Might Have Come From Other Galaxies” by Ryan F. Mandelbaum in Gizmodo.
Humans came from galaxies, far, far away, scientists say” by staff writer in FOX NEWS Science.
The Milky Way's far-flung origins” by Nadia Blackshaw in Sky at Night Magazine.
Turns out we may all be made of stardust, scientists say” by Zamira Rahim in CNN.

July 26, 2017
Half of the Milky Way comes from other galaxies” by Ashley Yeager in ScienceNews.
You Are Part Extragalactic, Study Says” by Becky Ferreira in Motherboard.
We are all made of stars: half our bodies' atoms 'formed beyond the Milky Way'” by Ian Sample in The Guardian.
As Much as Half of the Milky Way Likely Came From Distant Galaxies” by Nancy Atkinson in Seeker.
Half of the matter around us comes from distant galaxies” by Swapna Krishna in engadget.
'We should consider ourselves extragalactic immigrants': Surprising study finds HALF of the matter in the Milky Way comes from distant galaxies” by Shivali Best in Daily Mail.
Milky Way's origins are not what they seem” reprint of Northwestern News article in EurekAlert!

August 28, 2017
"Are we 'Immigrants' in our own Galaxy? Understanding Intergalactic Transfer" By Steve Lacy at Fox 5 News.


The Computing Power Behind CIERA’s Galaxy Formation Research

Northwestern University’s Information Technology (NUIT) team provides campus researchers across all disciplines access to high performance computing resources and services for conducting in-depth computational analysis of their research. In the Summer 2017 Research Computing Services Newsletter, Professor Claude-André Faucher-Giguère was featured as an example of a Northwestern researcher whose work depends on these resources. His group’s work involves simulations of galaxy formation and evolution, including star formation, stellar feedback, black hole/galaxy co-evolution, and the intergalactic medium.

Continue to the full feature from NUIT.
Visit Prof. Faucher-Giguère galaxy formation group web site.
Learn more about NUIT’s research computing services.


Graduate Students Engage with 7th/8th Grade Students & Families

On June 24th, Physics & Astronomy graduate students Cody Dirks and Zachary Hafen led a workshop at the Dearborn Observatory as part of the 2017 Center for Talent Development (CTD) Opportunities for the Future Family Conference. CTD's family conference features presentations designed to help gifted students and their families learn about careers and plan for the future. Over 600 people attended this year’s conference, and CTD worked with over 36 professionals and experts in gifted education to put on 26 unique sessions for students and families. While they visited the historic observatory, those who attended Astrophysics: Observing the Sun and Imagining the Universe heard about the exciting fields of theoretical astrophysics and astronomy directly from Northwestern’s graduate students.

Learn more about Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development.
Learn more about Dearborn Observatory.


June 2017



CIERA Director Vicky Kalogera Featured in Northwestern Global Impact Video

In a new video designed to acknowledge Northwestern’s global impact, President Schapiro presents some of the outstanding work happening across all campuses, including that of CIERA Director Vicky Kalogera.

Watch on YouTube Northwestern’s Global Impact:


Graduate Student Fani Dosopoulou Receives Holt Award

The Graduate School of Northwestern University has selected Fani Dosopoulou to receive the Holt Award. Named in honor of Helen Froelich Holt ’34, ‘38MS, it is a one-time award to help facilitate completion of the dissertation leading to a PhD. The prize is intended to provide monetary support in the student’s final year of writing and defense of the dissertation.

Fani studies the formation and evolution of binary systems from binary stars to planetary systems and massive black hole binaries. She plans to use the funds to underwrite the publication of her papers in scientific journals.

Learn more about alumna Helen Froelich Holt.
Congratulations, Fani!


CIERA Hosts Supernovae: The LSST Revolution Workshop

An international group of over 60 experts and young researchers working on all types of supernovae gathered May 31 - June 2 for Supernovae: The LSST Revolution, a workshop hosted by CIERA. Through talks and panel discussions, the group explored key issues from the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope perspective. The group plans to deliver a white paper with identified challenges and recommendations. Key topics included supernova light curves, LSST cadence, classification (machine learning algorithms), progenitor modeling, precovery, and LSST metrics.

On June 1, an evening public lecture highlighted the unique role of supernovae in understanding the evolution of the Universe. Harvard Professor Edo Berger presented “Nature’s Biggest Explosions: Past, Present, and Future” (left). Berger discussed how our understanding ofsupernovae has improved over time, from the first observations before telescopes, to today’s observations that span over a wide range of observablewavelengths; he also discussed how supernovae themselves work, and evolve over time.

On June 2, a dozen participating graduate students from myriad institutions gave brief talks on their current work with supernovae.

Please view the scientific program online to find talk titles, abstracts, and slides.

Scientific Organizing
Local Organizing Committee
Northwestern University
Event Support
Vicky Kalogera
CIERA, Northwestern
Ashish Mahabal
Raffaella Margutti
CIERA, Northwestern
Michael Schmitt
P&A, Northwestern
Michael Wood-Vasey
U Pittsburgh
Vicky Kalogera
Raffaella Margutti
Gretchen Oehlschlager
Michael Schmitt
Peter Anglada
Katie Breivik
Eve Chase
John Everett
Aprajita Hajela
Isaac Mandel
Gretchen Oehlschlager
Lisa Raymond
Niharika Sravan
Melodie Swanson
Mike Zevin

Supernovae: The LSST Revolution was made possible by a grant from the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Corporation, CIERA, and the Department of Physics & Astronomy.

Raffaella Margutti introduces
Edo Berger
Edo Berger presents public lecture Brian Nord presents at workshop Eve Chase presents in Graduate Student Jamboree
Group Photo Credit: Bruce Powell

LIGO Detects Gravitational Waves for Third Time

Northwestern Now reported on June 1, 2017 that “One, two and now three historic waves have come from deep space.”

The press release reads: “The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) made the detection Jan. 4, 2017, demonstrating that a new window in astronomy has been firmly opened. Gravitational waves pass through Earth and can be “heard” by the extremely sensitive LIGO detectors. As was the case with the first two detections, the waves were generated when two black holes merged to form a larger black hole.

The long-awaited triumph in September 2015 of the first-ever direct observation of gravitational waves completed Einstein’s vision of a universe in which space and time are interwoven and dynamic.”

Read the full Northwestern Now article.

Listen to the NorthwesternU SoundCloud story.
Read more in the Physical Review Letters journal.
Read the LIGO press release.
Related: "Citizen scientists help in search for gravitational waves" on Northwestern Now.

June 1, 2017
"LIGO’s Latest Black-Hole Merger Confirms Einstein, Challenges Astrophysics" in Scientific American.
"Newly discovered gravitational waves hint that 'cities' of black holes may lurk in space" in Business Insider.
"Physicists want to 'listen' for these 7 bizarre phenomena in space using gravitational waves" in Business Insider.
"‘Dancing’ black holes yield stellar object as massive as 49 suns" on PBS.
"LIGO detects gravitational waves for third time" in Business Standard.
"Third Gravitational Wave Event Detected" in Universe Today.

June 2, 2017
"Scientists Detect Gravitational Waves for Third Time" in Sci News.

July 9, 2017
"Strange noise in gravitational-wave data sparks debate " in WIRED.


May 2017



Astronomy Students Awarded Best Senior Thesis

Congratulations to undergraduates Rebecca Diesing and Charles “Chase” Kimball, who jointly won the Department of Physics & Astronomy prize for best senior thesis, 2017. This award is given on behalf of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee. Rebecca and Chase are both astronomy students; Rebecca works with Professor Farhad Yusef-Zadeh and Chase works with Professor Vicky Kalogera.

Rebecca’s thesis: “Radio Observations of the Supermassive Black Hole at the Galactic Center and
its Orbiting Magnetar”
Chase’s thesis: “Reconstructing the Evolutionary History of GRS 1915+105”

Congratulations, Rebecca and Chase!


"Science Sonification" Brings Together Composers & STEM Researchers

What does it sound like when you transform science into music? On May 22, an audience of about 75 enjoyed the premier of the Science Sonification Project Showcase in Lutkin Hall on Evanston’s campus. The event featured some of the finest composers from Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music, who teamed up with five scientists to create new music compositions inspired by cutting-edge scientific research. The result was a combined lecture-recital featuring science presentations, visualizations, and live performances of original music.

The Science Sonification and Composition Project is a new collaboration at Northwestern University that partners scientists with composers from the Bienen School of Music. The goal is to create and perform new music compositions inspired by cutting-edge scientific research at Northwestern. This collaboration was developed in 2016 by musician-scientists Eric Schwenker and Kyle Kremer as part of Kyle's Cosmos in Concert initiative through Northwestern's Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA).

Click pictures to view larger images.


CIERA Postdocs Advance to New Positions

Laura Sampson has moved to a postdoctoral position at Penn State at the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics. She is working on a program funded through the Gates Foundation to optimize response to measles outbreaks in sub-Saharan Africa.

Daniel Anglés-Alcázar has taken a Flatiron Fellowship to carry out independent research at the newly established Center for Computational Astrophysics in the Simons Foundation's Flatiron Institute in New York City. He will continue his research using large cosmological hydrodynamic simulations to understand the formation of galaxies.


Postdoctoral Fellow Dan Foreman-Mackey Presents CIERA Spring Interdisciplinary Colloquium

On March 16, CIERA welcomed Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow Dan Foreman-Mackey from the University of Washington as our Spring Interdisciplinary Colloquium speaker. The event was co-sponsored by the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO) & Data Science Initiative (DSI). Mackey presented “How to Find a Transiting Exoplanet: Data-driven Discovery in the Astronomical Time Domain” to a group of about 60.

Foreman-Mackey discussed the challenges of exoplanet detection and how physical models in combination with data-driven models of stars and spacecraft can be scaled and applied to hundreds of thousands of stars to detect even the smallest of exoplanets. As a computer programmer, Foreman-Mackey discussed the technical challenges and solutions of current and future datasets, which will ultimately provide greater context to the population of planets in the universe.

Click pictures to view larger images.


Physics Makes Music in A Shout Across Time

On May 15, about 150 people gathered at Nichols Concert Hall to attend a CIERA music and astronomy event called “A Shout Across Time”. The multimedia performance combined science and music by integrating astronomy visuals, narration, and live classical music performed by students from Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music. CIERA postdoctoral alumna and winner of L’Oreal USA’s prestigious “For Women in Science” Fellowship Laura Sampson funded the event as part of her effort to develop astronomy outreach programs. The evening was organized by Physics & Astronomy Graduate Student and accomplished musician Kyle Kremer as part of his Cosmos in Concert initiative. This event marks another combined astronomy and music event for Kremer who has a well-known history of combing the two. During his undergraduate career, Kremer pursued a dual degree in physics and trumpet and has since created multiple science-themed music concerts as part of his effort to bring astronomy and music to the public.

The evening featured two pieces to celebrate two events in modern astronomy. The first, Eclipse, displayed images of planets and videos of solar flares set to music for brass quintet arranged by Kremer to highlight the upcoming 2017 solar eclipse. The second, A Shout Across Time, projected videos related to time, mathematics, and Einstein to illustrate and commemorate Einstein’s theories on general relativity, black holes, and gravitational waves. The visuals were set to original music composed by Ira Mowitz. Between the pieces, Sampson described the evolution of Einstein’s theories and our current fascination with gravitational waves.

Learn more about Kyle Kremer’s Cosmos in Concert initiative.
Read about Laura Sampson’s L’Oréal USA For Women in Science award.
Go to the Northwestern News story on this event.
Read the event review in Chicago Splash magazine.
Check out our safe viewing guide for the 2017 Solar Eclipse.

Click pictures to view larger images.


Chicago Woman Magazine Features CIERA Director Prof. Kalogera

On May 5, 2017, CIERA Director, Vicky Kalogera was featured in Chicago Woman magazine’s “Women in STEM” column. Kalogera’s interview discussed her involvement with the LIGO team, and their discovery of gravitational waves. The interview also explored Kalogera’s upbringing and long-term interests in science, and what it is like to be a female researcher in a historically male-dominated field.

Read the full Chicago Woman interview.


LIGO Co-founder Rainer Weiss Presents CIERA Annual Public Lecture

On May 2, 2017 Prof. Rainer Weiss presented his talk, “Beginning the Exploration of the Universe with Gravitational Waves,” to an enthusiastic audience of over 260 in Tech Lecture Room 3. Prof. Weiss is professor of physics emeritus at MIT and is one of the founders of LIGO, the instrument that first heard gravitational waves emit from the merging of two supermassive black holes 1.3 billion light years from Earth. Dr. Weiss developed the concept behind LIGO as an exercise for a course on general relativity that he taught at MIT in 1967. Today the LIGO Collaboration is comprised of over 1,000 scientists and engineers world-wide, including faculty, postdocs, and graduate students at Northwestern.

In his talk, Prof. Weiss discussed the history of gravitational waves and spoke of the instruments and methods for data analysis that enable the measurement of gravitational waves. He touched upon their relation to the Einstein field equations, and ended by describing the future of gravitational wave astronomy, which is a new way of studying the Universe. The audience had a chance to ask a variety of questions after the talk.


CIERA Director Prof. Kalogera Receives Walder Award for Research Excellence

Vicky Kalogera has been honored as the winner of the 2017 Martin E. and Gertrude G. Walder Award for Research Excellence. This award is given to one faculty member annually by the Northwestern University Provost. Provost Linzer states, “Vicky is a highly prolific and influential scholar in the fields of physics and astronomy. She is a senior member of the international team that detected the first direct evidence of gravitational waves. With these data, her team also made the first direct observation of two black holes colliding.”

Continue to the Northwestern News announcement or the Office of the Provost announcement.

Congratulations, Vicky!


April 2017



CIERA Contributes to Northwestern’s Computational Research Day

To celebrate and highlight advanced research computing at Northwestern, the fourth annual Computational Research Day was held on April 18th. This all-day, campus-wide event included workshops, presentations from Northwestern researchers and guest speakers, and a poster competition sponsored by CIERA and NICO (Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems).

Professor Claude-André Faucher-Giguère, who studies galaxy formation & evolution at CIERA, helped lead an informal discussion and networking session on funding and leveraging high-performance computing resources. The following graduate students with connections to CIERA presented posters in the poster competition: Sara Bahaadini, Katie Breivik, Eve Chase, Josh Fixelle, Alex Gurvich, Zach Hafen, Jason Hwang, and Kyle Kremer.

Computational Research Day is hosted by Northwestern Information Technology and sponsored in conjunction with Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Kellogg School of Management, Feinberg School of Medicine, Office for Research, The Graduate School, and Northwestern University Libraries.

CIERA Researchers' Poster Titles:

  • Deep Multi-view Models for Glitch Classification – Sara Bahaadini
  • Gravitational-Wave Sky Localization in the Advanced Detector Era – Eve Chase
  • Stellar Mass Black Hole - Star Collisions with Smoothed-Particle Hydrodynamics – Josh Fixelle
  • Simulations of Galaxy Formation with Resolved Supernova Feedback – Alex Gurvich
  • Distinguishing Between Formation Channels for Binary Black Holes with LISA – Katelyn Breivik (pictured above)
  • Collisions in Tightly-Packed Exoplanet Systems – Jason Hwang
  • Monte Carlo Simulations of Globular Clusters – Kyle Kremer
  • Interpreting the Universe with Virtual Galaxies – Zachary Hafen


    Prof. Faucher-Giguère Receives NSF Honor for Young Faculty

    Congratulations to CIERA’s Claude-André Faucher-Giguère, recipient of a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation. Prof. Faucher-Giguère, who studies galaxy formation, will use the award for research, education, and public outreach initiatives.

    Read the full announcement from Northwestern News.
    Visit Prof. Faucher-Giguère’s web site.


    CIERA to Welcome New Postdocs in Fall 2017

    We are pleased to announce that the following postdoctoral researchers will join CIERA in the Fall of 2017!

    Cliff Johnson studies star clusters in the context of galaxy evolution, with a focus on data science. He will join us from the University of California at San Diego. Diego Muñoz, currently a researcher at Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, will join Prof. Yoram Lithwick’s group to model the dynamics and formation of planets around other stars. Giacomo Terreran studies stellar explosions and other transients (brief astronomical events). He is completing PhD work as a joint student at Queen’s University Belfast and INAF – Osservatorio Astronomico di Padov. Giacomo will join Prof. Raffaella Margutti’s group. Jonathan Stern studies the impact of stars & black holes on galaxies and the matter between galaxies; he is now at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany. Sarah Wellons is finishing her PhD at Harvard University and studies galaxy evolution through computer simulations. Jonathan and Sarah will join Prof. Claude-André Faucher-Giguère’s group.


    Rocco Coppejans Joins CIERA’s Mel Ulmer to Work on Mirrors in Space

    Postdoctoral researcher Rocco Coppejans has joined CIERA to work with Professor Mel Ulmer on developing new techniques to correct the shapes of mirrors, in space, using magnetic fields. Coppejans completed his doctoral degree at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. His office is located in Dearborn 6.

    Read more about Mel Ulmer’s research: Mission Impossible? Ulmer leading audacious project to unfurl world’s largest space telescope.


    March 2017



    CIERA Researchers Highlight Their Expertise in Seven Minutes or Less

    On March 16, 2017, CIERA graduate students Paul Williams and Michael Zevin showcased their skills in public speaking at the bi-annual event: “Seven Minutes of Science.” Seven Minutes of Science is the culmination of 10-weeks of practice and coaching, where the individuals present on their complex research to a general audience within a seven-minute time frame. In the past, the course has been offered exclusively to NU graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, but this quarter it was also opened to faculty for the first time.

    The event is organized by the RSG program, in association with CIERA’s new data science program, Integrated Data-Driven Discovery in Earth and Astrophysical Science (IDEAS). A shared goal of both programs is to increase awareness for the need of excellent science communicators, and to coach researchers to improve their presentation skills.

    This year, fourteen speakers discussed their research in a broad range of scientific topics—from creating simulations that will assist in heart valve surgery, to investigating the Earth’s crust near the Great Lakes in order to better understand how new earth is formed on the ocean floor.

    Paul and Michael represented CIERA by speaking on their astrophysical investigations. Paul’s presentation was titled Balloons Above Antarctica: The Coolest Place to Put a Telescope, and discussed his work with Next Generation Balloon-borne Large Aperture Submillimeter Telescope (BLAST) currently being constructed in Antarctica.

    Michael’s talk was called Revealing the Lives of Stars Through the Cataclysmic Collisions of Black Holes, and focused on his role within CIERA’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) group, and the unknown unknowns that will define the course of future research in gravitational waves. Associate Neda Rohani (EECS) also presented on her work with LIGO affiliated project, Gravity Spy.

    Click pictures to view larger images.
    Paul Williams Complete event program Michael Zevin Neda Rohani


    New Issue of “LIGO Magazine” Features Gravity Spy Article by Mike Zevin

    The tenth issue of LIGO Magazine is now available for download. This issue focuses on LIGO’s second observation run, “O2”. In “Getting ready for O2: A data analysis perspective”, gravitational-wave astronomers Sarah Caudill and Vivien Raymond discuss preparing to analyze the new data. Vivien is a Northwestern PhD from CIERA Director Vicky Kalogera’s research group.

    Mike Zevin, a 3rd year doctoral student at Northwestern, penned a feature article, “The Gravity Spy Project: Machine learning and citizen science” highlighting the relationship between professional astronomers and citizen scientists which is making analyzing LIGO data more effective.

    Gravity Spy is a collaboration between Northwestern University (PI), led by Mike Zevin and Scott Coughlin with PI Vicky Kalogera and co-PI Aggelos Katsaggelos (Northwestern’s team is comprised of a LIGO group in CIERA and a machine learning group in the Image and Video Processing Laboratory), The Adler Planetarium, led by co-PI Laura Trouille, Syracuse University, led by co-PI’s Kevin Crowston and Carsten Østerlund, California State University at Fullerton, led by co-PI Josh Smith, and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation.

    Check out past issues of LIGO magazine.


    CIERA Pilot Program Exposes Students to Astronomy Research

    Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are crucial to innovation, yet many challenges exist to producing highly qualified STEM graduates. CIERA Professor Dave Meyer and graduate student Cody Dirks implemented a pilot of a new program called Engaging Introductory Astronomy Students in Authentic Research through Citizen Science through a National Science Foundation (NSF) initiative called Improving Undergraduate Science Education (IUSE).

    This NSF-IUSE supported pilot curriculum project created at CIERA encourages development in undergraduate STEM education through experiential teaching, innovative metrics of learning, and undergraduate research. In addition to Northwestern, the project is being pilot-tested at Oakton Community College, University of St. Thomas, and University of Pittsburgh for comparison. A key element is encouraging student participation in scientific processes.

    With the help of the Adler Planetarium, Meyer and Dirks implemented the IUSE pilot in Meyer’s Astronomy 120 course, Highlights of Astronomy, this past fall. In place of a traditional final paper in which students assess the validity of a news article reporting on an astronomical discovery, students designed and presented a scientific project from a set of data.

    “We’re trying to give students a chance to do science of their own by getting their hands on some data and letting them come up with an actual scientific project,” said Dirks.

    In place of traditional classroom lectures about galaxies, Meyer also “flipped the classroom” by creating a series of online video lectures which created in-class time to run examples and creative activities.

    The first half of the quarter was spent accustoming students to large amounts of data and giving them tools like spreadsheet manipulation and basic statistical analysis. For instance, Meyer would have students work on data that he would use to demonstrate concepts like Hubble’s Law.

    The second half of the quarter exposed them to real-world examples of larger datasets that students would analyze for the final project. Meyer gave students a spreadsheet of 20,000 rows of data about galaxies—including their magnitudes, size estimates, etc.—from Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Based on what they learned in class about galaxies, students would come up with a research question.

    For the final project, students prepared a 4-minute narrated video that explained their project idea, data analysis, results, and a summary of what they learned. Dirks noted that this method allows students to understand for themselves the process that goes into producing a scientific article, analyzing data, and producing results.

    So far students have enjoyed the ability to be hands-on with data. Dirks said, “a lot of them like the idea of getting to use actual data for a project, which is the point to begin with, to get them exposed to using actual data and doing a scientific project of their own even if they aren’t a STEM major.”

    The program will be implemented in the same class next fall with Meyer, Dirks, and possibly another Teaching Assistant with several changes to refine the program. If successful, the program will be an encouraging step towards implementation in classrooms beyond Northwestern.


    CIERA Professor Giles Novak Joins ALMA Science Advisory Committee

    Professor Giles Novak has been appointed as a member of the ALMA Science Advisory Committee (ASAC). ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter-Submillimeter Array, is located in the Atacama desert in Chile and is an international partnership of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan, and several other international groups.

    ALMA is the largest astronomical project in existence, composed of 66 high precision antennas located at 16,000 feet elevation. The ASAC provides scientific advice to the ALMA board regarding the scientific operation of ALMA, serving as representatives of the wider astronomical community. Novak is serving a three-year term starting this year.


    Professor Jeremy Kasdin Presents CIERA Winter Interdisciplinary Colloquium

    On March 1, Princeton University’s N. Jeremy Kasdin presented, “Finding and Characterizing Earth 2.0: An Engineering and Astronomy Partnership” to an audience of approximately 80 people. Dr. Kasdin is Professor of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering (with an affiliated appointment in Astrophysics) and Principal Investigator of Princeton’s interdisciplinary High Contrast Imaging Laboratory.

    Professor Kasdin focused his talk on the increasing discoveries of exoplanets. He described techniques and advances in imaging exoplanets, an area that has benefited from a close partnership between engineering and astrophysics. He also shared his own career path, which has included roles both in industry and academia, and talked about supporting students interested in interdisciplinary areas of study.

    Click pictures to view larger images.


    February 2017



    Media Seek Expertise on New Planets in TRAPPIST-1 System

    Local astronomers, in their roles here at CIERA and at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, received a flurry of press requests for interviews and quotations in relation to the discovery of a system of exoplanets announced by NASA in February. Though CIERA’s researchers were not directly involved in the discovery of the seven new planets, their ability to communicate its meaning to the public was invaluable to local press.

    Adler Planetarium Director of Citizen Science and CIERA Postdoctoral Research Affiliate, Laura Trouille, was interviewed about Planet Hunters and other Zooniverse citizen science projects on National Public Radio’s Science Friday February 24 (hear the segment here; Dr. Trouille begins at about 9 minutes in).

    Aaron Geller, NSF Astronomy & Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow, was interviewed by Chicago CBS 2 (view the segment here) in the Adler’s Solar System gallery (see photo, left). Aaron also gave two radio interviews: 101 WKQX in the morning of February 23, and 1690 am WVON that evening. View Aaron’s Facebook Live video, courtesy of Adler Planetarium:


    CIERA Hosts Astronomy Day for Middle School Teachers

    On February 23, CIERA hosted a day of professional development for middle school science and astronomy teachers. Twelve teachers from Evanston, Skokie, and Libertyville participated. CIERA Data Science Scholar Ben Nelson joined Physics & Astronomy graduate students Cody Dirks, Katie Breivik, Zach Hafen, and Mike Zevin in stopping by throughout the day to talk about their research and answer the teachers’ questions.

    Evanston Township High School Astronomy teachers Andy Miner and Gion Matthias Schelbert attended, sharing many useful resources. The response from the teachers was fantastic. One said, “This is the kind of collaboration that is most productive. One that is more organic. Letting teachers talk and share ideas and resources about teaching is the purest form of professional development I can think of. The discussions and meeting people was outstanding.”


    January 2017



    News from CIERA Professor Farhad Yusef-Zadeh on Star, Planet Formation in Milky Way

    Ashley Yeager from writes, “Blobs of gas near the Milky Way’s center may be just the right mass to harbor young stars and possibly planets, too. Any such budding stellar systems would face an uphill battle, developing only about two light-years from the galaxy’s central supermassive black hole with its intense gravity and ultraviolet radiation. But it’s not impossible for the small stars to survive in the hostile place, a new study suggests.

    ‘Nature is very clever. It finds ways to work in extreme environments,’ says Farhad Yusef-Zadeh, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.”

    Continue to the full Science News article.
    Go to the paper at
    Read more about Prof. Yusef-Zadeh’s research.

    Image: Clouds of gas (white box), observed with Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), appear to have the right mass to be young stars, even though they aren’t far from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way (green dot). Courtesy of F. Yusef-Zadeh/Northwestern University.


    Graduate Student Katie Breivik Wins Chambliss Honorable Mention for Research Poster at AAS

    At the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), graduate student Katie Breivik was awarded a Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Award, Honorable Mention. This award is given to recognize exemplary research by students who present posters at the meetings of the AAS. 62 graduate students entered this meeting’s competition and there were nearly 200 judges for both graduate and undergraduate posters.

    Katie studies the formation of pairs of black holes with computer simulations. Her poster was titled, “Distinguishing Between Formation Channels for Binary Black Holes with LISA.” The image above shows Katie at the NASA Hyperwall at the AAS meeting.

    Congratulations, Katie!

    To view all the winners, see the AAS Press Release about the Chambliss Awards.


    Supernova News from CIERA Professor Raffaella Margutti

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has issued a press release, NuSTAR Finds New Clues to 'Chameleon Supernova', which begins:

    "We're made of star stuff," astronomer Carl Sagan famously said. Nuclear reactions that happened in ancient stars generated much of the material that makes up our bodies, our planet and our solar system. When stars explode in violent deaths called supernovae, those newly formed elements escape and spread out in the universe.

    One supernova in particular is challenging astronomers' models of how exploding stars distribute their elements. The supernova SN 2014C dramatically changed in appearance over the course of a year, apparently because it had thrown off a lot of material late in its life. This doesn't fit into any recognized category of how a stellar explosion should happen. To explain it, scientists must reconsider established ideas about how massive stars live out their lives before exploding.

    "This 'chameleon supernova' may represent a new mechanism of how massive stars deliver elements created in their cores to the rest of the universe," said Raffaella Margutti, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Margutti led a study about supernova SN 2014C published this week in The Astrophysical Journal.

    Please continue to the full NASA JPL Feature.
    Visit the AAS Nova feature, “A Challenge to Our View of How Stars Die.”
    Read more about Prof. Margutti’s Research.


    CIERA REU Students Present at 229th Meeting of the AAS

    This January, nine students from CIERA’s summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program presented posters on their research projects at the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Grapevine, Texas. Directed by NSF Astronomy & Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow Aaron Geller, the REU program focuses on connections between astrophysics and other disciplines within CIERA. Students learn computer programming, develop skills in science communication, take field trips, and benefit from career panels in addition to collaborating with faculty on research projects.

    The winter meeting of the AAS is the largest gathering of American astronomers each year and includes many opportunities for networking. The students presented the following posters:

    Joseph Arroyo (adviser: Eric Dahl)
    Simulating Xenon Bubble Chambers for Dark Matter Detection
    Valerie Becker (adviser: Dave Meyer)
    HST STIS Observations of Interstellar Chlorine
    Michael Bueno (adviser: Shane Larson)
    Multi-Messenger Astronomy: White Dwarf Binaries, LISA and GAIA
    Joshua Fuhrman (adviser: Fred Rasio)
    Exploring Sources of Gravitational Waves From Star Cluster Dynamics
    Beverley Lowell (adviser: André de Gouvêa)
    Understanding the Earth’s Composition through Neutrino Oscillations
    Lupe MacIntosh (adviser: Mel Ulmer)
    An Automated Census Of Variable X-Ray Objects in the Direction of Clusters of Galaxies
    Noah Rivera (adviser: Michael Schmitt)
    Exoplanet Transit Analysis of KIC 8462852
    Abraham Teklu (adviser: Alvin Bayliss)
    How Mathematics Describes Life
    Yuqi Yun (adviser: Vicky Kalogera)
    A Fast Method to Predict Distributions of Binary Black Hole Masses with Gaussian Process Regression

    Learn more about CIERA’s NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Visit the web sites of the 2016 cohort of CIERA REU students to learn more about their work.


    CIERA Postdoctoral Alum Laura Fissel Presents Plenary Talk at AAS229

    Laura Fissel, a CIERA postdoctoral fellow (2013-2016) and current Jansky fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory-Charlottesville, was invited to give a plenary talk at the 229th (winter) meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). The AAS holds meetings semiannually, and the winter meetings, called the “Super Bowl of astronomy” are the largest gathering of American astronomers each year. Laura joined a select group of researchers giving plenary talks, which are those presented to every attendee at once with no concurrent events; they represent important topics of conversation throughout the meeting.

    Laura works with the BLAST (the Balloon-borne Large Aperture Submillimeter Telescope) project, a telescope that measures electromagnetic radiation in star-forming clouds of dust and gas. Laura’s talk was titled, “Astronomy from the Upper Stratosphere: Key Discoveries and New Opportunities from High Altitude Scientific Balloons” and her description of the talk states, “Stratospheric balloons offer a near-space astronomy platform for a small fraction of the cost of an equivalent satellite. These balloons can lift scientific payloads of up to 6,000 lbs as high as 40 km above the Earth.”

    Learn more about Laura’s work.


    Professor Mel Ulmer Discusses Geoengineering at AAS229

    Mel Ulmer was invited to join a special session of the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) this January, chaired by James Lowenthal of Smith College. The panel discussion, which was organized by the AAS Sustainability Committee, focused on the merits and risks of modifying the atmosphere to combat climate change.

    The panel was titled “Geoengineering the Atmosphere to Fight Climate Change: Should Astronomers Worry about It?” and its program description states, “Geo-engineering is a set of proposed solutions to global climate change that involve intentionally modifying the Earth’s atmosphere and/or surface. Examples: injecting aerosols, water droplets, or other reflectors into or above the atmosphere to reduce incoming sunlight. Will it work? What if it doesn’t? How much will it cost? What are possible side effects? Is it ethical?”

    Read the Yahoo! News article about the panel discussion.
    Learn more about the AAS Sustainability Committee.


    Four New Postdoctoral Researchers Join CIERA

    We are excited to introduce CIERA's new Postdoctoral Research Fellows. They bring a wide-range of expertise that promises to advance CIERA's cutting-edge research programs.

    Deanne Coppejans
    Deanne joined CIERA in November 2016 as a Postdoctoral Associate working with Assistant Professor Raffaella Margutti on multi-wavelength observations of supernovae and other transients. She will lead the radio observations for these studies. Deanne completed her PhD at Radboud University Nijmegen (the Netherlands) on multi-wavelength accretion studies of binary stars, specifically Cataclysmic Variables.

    Kit Lee
    Kit joined CIERA in mid-August 2016 as a Postdoctoral Associate, working with Professor Yoram Lithwick’s group. Kit’s expertise is on problems in astrophysical fluid dynamics, especially related to galactic and protoplanetary disks. Previously, Kit was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Academia Sinica, Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Taiwan.

    Pablo Marchant
    Pablo will arrive this winter from the University of Bonn, where he's now a graduate student conducting research on the evolution of single and binary massive stars. He brings expertise in stellar physics and MESA simulations, and he'll be working with Profs. Vicky Kalogera and Ron Taam on stellar evolution and binary stellar modeling. Pablo originally comes from Chile.

    Adam Miller
    Adam Miller joined CIERA in October 2016. Adam is the director of program development and communicationsfor theLargeSynoptic SurveyTelescope Corporation Data Science Fellowship Program, a series of workshops to teachdata science principles to astronomy graduate students. The first workshop was successfully held at Northwestern this past August. Adam's research focuses on the use of automated classification tools, such as machine learning, to classify explosions and stellar variables. Adam was previously a Hubble Fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.


    December 2016



    Graduate Student Zachary Hafen Wins Award in the 2016 Northwestern Scientific Images Contest

    Northwestern’s Science in Society holds an annual competition to find the most beautiful scientific images from researchers all over campus. Entries to this sixth year of the contest came from medicine, chemistry, engineering, and nanotechnology, among others.

    Physics & Astronomy graduate student Zachary Hafen used computer modelling to create an image of a single galaxy evolving over time. His image, One Galaxy, Multiple Perspectives, won an Honorable Mention in this year's contest.

    Visit HELIX Magazine, the online publication from Science in Society, to view a gallery of the winning images from 2016 and to read about One Galaxy, Multiple Perspectives.

    Watch the interview of Science in Society’s Sara Grady on WTTW Chicago Tonight.
    Visit the display of winning images in December at the Evanston Public Library.
    View the artwork created by Evanston Township High School students, based on the scientific images.


    Year-in-Review Honors for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration

    In December, several prestigious honors were announced for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, the team of scientists and engineers involved in the gravitational-wave discovery announced earlier this year. CIERA’s director, Vicky Kalogera, led the astrophysical interpretation of the discovery for the LIGO collaboration. Over the years, her group pioneered ways of making detection source rate predictions and developed methods for extracting information from gravitational-wave signals from binaries of spinning compact objects.

    Foreign Policy Magazine Top 100 Global Thinkers (see image top left)
    Across nine categories, Foreign Policy Magazine announced their top 100 global thinkers for 2016. The LIGO Scientific Collaboration is honored among “the chroniclers,” a group of leaders that includes filmmakers, novelists, and artists. The group is noted for producing “relevant, accessible, and urgent” work.
    Read the citation for LIGO.
    View all the Leading Global Thinkers honorees.

    Physics World 2016 Breakthrough of the Year (see image right)
    Physics World, the member magazine of the Institute of Physics, released their top 10 breakthroughs for 2016, naming the LIGO Scientific Collaboration’s gravitational wave discovery as Breakthrough of the Year. Nine runner-up achievements were also identified by the panel of Physics World editors and reporters. Criteria for selection is based on importance of research, advancement of knowledge, connecting theory and experiment, and general interest to all physicists.
    Read the full announcement from Physics World.

    Science News Top Science Story of 2016 (see image left)
    Science News magazine named their top ten science stories of 2016, with the first direct detection of gravitational waves at the #1 spot. The ten selections are diverse and include the Zika virus, polar ice cap melting, and artificial intelligence, among other fascinating picks.
    See the Science News Top 10 Stories of 2016.
    Read the full article about the LIGO discovery.

    Top APS Physics Highlight of the Year (see image right)
    LIGO’s discovery of gravitational waves topped the APS Physics highlights of the year. The editors named it their favorite story. Physics provides daily online-only news and commentary about a selection of papers from the APS (American Physical Society) journal collection.
    View the Physics Highlights of 2016.

    Science Magazine’s 2016 Breakthrough of the Year (see image left)
    Ripples in space time are Science’s Breakthrough of the Year, and second most popular choice among online visitors for story of the year. Science Magazine is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s oldest and largest general science organization. Its mission, among other goals, is to communicate the value of science to the public.
    View the Science Breakthrough of the Year Video.
    Read the full article on Science’s 2016 Breakthrough.

    Congratulations Northwestern LIGO team!


    Prospect High School Hosts Panel of Women Astrophysicists from Northwestern

    On December 8th, Prospect High School’s Women in STEM Club sponsored an evening with astrophysicists from Northwestern University. Physics & astronomy graduate students Katie Breivik, Eve Chase, and Renee Manzagol joined CIERA postdoctoral associate Deanne Coppejans to speak with students about their experiences in the field. About 30 attendees turned out for the event, a big draw for the club.

    The club is dedicated to promoting awareness of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and is sponsored by Prospect High School physics teacher, Katie Page. In addition to hosting panels like this one, the club offers resources like internship and scholarship opportunities for girls interested in STEM fields.


    Gravitational Waves Detection Featured in Holiday Greeting to Northwestern Alumni

    This year, Northwestern President Schapiro and Mimi Schapiro sent a year-in-review video to alumni and others on behalf of Northwestern and the Northwestern Alumni Association. CIERA Director Vicky Kalogera is featured as part of the historic first detection of gravitational waves, which was announced in February of 2016. Professor Kalogera joins mentions of other major 2016 Northwestern accomplishments in the “charted new paths” section of the video.

    Enjoy the video at:


    Postdocs & Graduate Students Present at Annual CIERA Research Jamboree

    For the fourth year in December, CIERA faculty, postdocs, graduate students and guests gathered before the annual CIERA holiday party to hear short presentations on the wide array of research conducted here by Postdoctoral Fellows and Graduate Students. The Research Jamboree provides an opportunity to hear about colleagues’ latest interests, projects, and results in a quick-paced format that allows time for questions as well as discussions during breaks. This year’s 21 talks included research such as modeling habitability criteria of Earth-like planets, determining planet mass by analyzing spiral waves, and making observations with a balloon-borne telescope in Antarctica.


    Executive Director of LIGO Laboratory Presents CIERA Fall Interdisciplinary Colloquium

    On December 1st and 2nd, Dave Reitze, the Executive Director of LIGO Laboratory at Caltech, visited Northwestern for a series of group meetings, a tour of the Laboratory for Atomic and Photonic Technology, and to present CIERA’s Fall Interdisciplinary Colloquium on the topic of gravitational waves detected by LIGO.

    Dr. Reitze, Northwestern alumnus class of 1983, met with LIGO Scientific Collaboration members Vicky Kalogera, Shane Larson, Selim Shahriar and several postdocs and students at Northwestern who contributed to the discovery (some of whom are pictured, left). His talk, titled, “Colliding Black Holes & Convulsions in Space-time: The First Observations of Gravitational Waves by LIGO,” included a description of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory and the “powerful and unique probes of the universe” that LIGO captures. To a group of about 150 people, he discussed LIGO’s history, but mostly focused on the interferometers themselves, the LIGO detections, and their astrophysical implications.

    Read the Office for Research story, LIGO Executive Director and Northwestern Alumnus Talks Black Holes, Future of Exploration.
    Read Paths: David Reitze ’83 from the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences Alumni Magazine.

    Click pictures to view larger images.
    Image credit: Story anchor & lab images, Roger Anderson, Northwestern Office for Research

    CIERA Fall 2016 Interdisciplinary Colloquium in Tech L211 Dave Reitze speaks with CIERA Board of Visitors member, Dianne Blanco Dave Reitze & Selim Shahriar in the Lab for Atomic and Photonic Technology With some of Prof. Shahriar’s group members


    November 2016



    Audio Series on Northwestern Couples Features Vicky Kalogera and Fred Rasio

    CIERA Director Vicky Kalogera and her spouse, Fred Rasio, are both faculty in Northwestern’s Physics & Astronomy Department. They recently participated in an audio series that features couples across many disciplines at Northwestern: law, medicine, film, athletics and more. Tune in to learn more about Fred and Vicky.

    Visit Northwestern Now for photos of Vicky & Fred, a transcript of their interview, and links to more podcasts featuring Northwestern couples.


    Graduate Student Matthew Rickert Wins Reber Fellowship

    Graduate student Matthew Rickert (advisor: Farhad Yusef-Zadeh) has won a Reber Fellowship from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). From the organization’s web site: “The Grote Reber Doctoral Fellowship Program gives Ph.D. students an opportunity to conduct research in radio astronomy, radio instrumentation, or computational techniques at one of the NRAO sites under the supervision of an NRAO staff astronomer or engineer. The program is jointly sponsored by NRAO and the students' home universities. To be eligible, the student must be engaged in a well-advanced thesis project and have the support of both their prospective NRAO advisor and their academic department.”

    In Socorro, New Mexico, Matthew is using the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (pictured right) to survey our galaxy for young stellar objects. Matthew notes that he “has already detected six times more water masers and two times more methanol masers than the next best surveys that used single-dish telescopes with poorer resolution.” (Maser = laser at mm-cm wavelengths.)

    Congratulations, Matthew!

    Learn more about the Grote Reber Doctoral Fellowship Program and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.


    CIERA’s Mel Ulmer Leading Audacious Project to Unfurl World’s Largest Space Telescope

    Roger Anderson for Northwestern Research News writes: Figuring out how to fit a 16-meter mirror into a four-meter hole was the easy part.

    Two years before a NASA-led collaboration is set to launch the James Webb Space Telescope — with a collecting mirror 6.5 meters in diameter — Mel Ulmer, physics and astronomy, is researching the feasibility of putting that mirror into space.

    Reflecting telescopes rely on concave mirrors to collect and focus light in a manner that has produced brilliant images, including those from the Hubble, which launched in 1990 with a 2.4-meter mirror.

    “A major limitation to increasing the size of these telescopes is that the rockets used to launch them can only carry a solid monolithic mirror up to about four meters in diameter,” says Ulmer, a Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA) faculty member. “That means we are left to design a system that’s deployable, meaning it can change shape once it reaches space.”

    Continue to Northwestern Research for the full article.


    CIERA REU Students Present at PhysCon

    Valerie Becker and Eryn Cangi, students from CIERA’s Research Experience for Undergraduates Program, each presented research at this year’s Quadrennial Physics Congress (PhysCon). From the web site, “PhysCon brings together physics students, alumni, and faculty members for three days of frontier physics, poster sessions, interactive professional development workshops, and networking. It is the largest gathering of undergraduate physics students in the world!”

    Valerie presented “HST STIS Observations of Interstellar Chlorine,” which she developed at the CIERA REU program this past summer with advisor Prof. Dave Meyer. Eryn presented "Delineating the Migrating Solar and Lunar Semidiurnal Atmospheric Tides in the General Circulation Models," a poster she created at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder. Eryn’s work at CIERA took place in 2015 with Prof. Daniel Abrams.

    Though Eryn’s REU cohort at Northwestern was 2015 and Valerie’s 2016, they were able to connect at PhysCon, a meeting that highlights networking. Eryn says, “REUs help students build a network early in their careers. It was great to experience it in action and I am glad Valerie had it in mind to look for me on the schedule.” Valerie agreed: “I was excited to learn how the [CIERA REU] experience affected her career, if we had similar (wonderful) experiences in our different years, and if there was any advice she wanted to tell me going forward.”

    Learn more about their work! Visit the REU web sites of Valerie Becker and Eryn Cangi.
    Check out the CIERA Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program.
    Learn about PhysCon.


    Graduate Student Katie Breivik’s Paper Featured on AAS Nova

    Graduate student Katie Breivik’s work has been featured on the site, which highlights some of the most interesting recent results being published in the journals of the American Astronomical Society. Katie is a theoretical astrophysicist who studies the formation of pairs of black holes with computer simulations. Her work exhibits the capabilities of a space-based detector called LISA, the "Laser Interferometer Space Antenna" that will be jointly flown by NASA and the European Space Agency near the end of the next decade.

    Read the feature article, “Using LISA to Learn How Pairs of Black Holes Formed” on AAS Nova.
    Check out Breivik’s paper, “Distinguishing Between Formation Channels for Binary Black Holes with LISA.”


    Rapid Fire Research Kicks Off

    On October 26, graduate student Mike Zevin hosted the inaugural Rapid Fire Research event where 10 students had the opportunity to practice the art of presenting research. The annual event showcases graduate and undergraduate physics and astronomy student research at Northwestern with the purpose of developing the skills necessary to “communicate research in a clear, concise fashion."

    Presentations were scored by a panel of faculty and post-doctoral fellows based on research presentation and effectiveness of communications. The winners receive cash prizes for the first place and runner-up graduate student and the first place and runner-up undergraduate student.

    The graduate student winner was Zach Hafen and runner-up Katie Breivik. The undergraduate winner was Trent Cwiok and runner-up Benjamin Moy. Congratulations to everyone who presented!

    Learn more about Rapid Fire Research.


    October 2016



    CIERA REU Student Beverly Lowell Presents Research at Symposium

    CIERA REU program participant and Illinois Institute of Technology undergraduate student Beverly Lowell presented at the National Science Foundation’s Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) Symposium in Washington, DC last week. She was chosen to present her research from the CIERA REU program this past summer on the topic “Understanding the Earth's Composition through Neutrino Oscillations.” Lowell was advised on the project by Prof. André de Gouvêa, Department of Physics and Astronomy. CIERA Director Vicky Kalogera congratulated Lowell and noted how great it is when the CIERA REU program can “enable students to have exactly this kind of experience!”

    Learn more about the CIERA REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program.
    View the CUR symposium event program.


    CIERA’s Board of Visitors Meets with Top University Officials

    CIERA has formed a diverse, external group of advisors to serve as its Board of Visitors. Members joined the group because they love science broadly, astronomy in particular, and are eager to see astronomy at Northwestern continue to thrive and expand. In order to strategize, advise, and assist with CIERA’s mission and future growth, the Board met on October 21 for its inaugural meeting.

    During their meeting the Board heard from Provost Dan Linzer (pictured with Board members, left), Vice President for Research Jay Walsh, and Executive Director of Development for Schools and Programs, WE WILL Campaign, David Nacol. The Board also got to meet the new astronomy faculty member, Raffaella Margutti, and hear about the research conducted by some of CIERA’s postdoctoral fellows: Fabio Antonini, Laura Sampson, Adam Miller, and Ben Nelson.

    Learn more about CIERA’s Board of Visitors and CIERA in WE WILL, the campaign for Northwestern.


    Dearborn Observatory Welcomes 1,500 During Architecture Festival

    On October 15 & 16, the Dearborn Observatory hosted 1,500 visitors as part of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago (OHC) event. Both days had larger attendance than last year’s event: 800 people visited the Dearborn on Saturday and 700 people came on Sunday this year. Two other sites on Northwestern’s Evanston campus were featured, among over two hundred sites total in the greater Chicago area.

    Huge thanks to astronomers Mike Smutko, Cody Dirks, Moriah Lavey, Alex Gurvich, and Kyle Kremer for dedicating some of their weekend to chat with 1,500 visitors!

    Learn more about the three Northwestern buildings featured at OHC in the Northwestern News story.

    Plan a visit to Dearborn Observatory or find out about the Chicago Architecture Foundation.


    Gravity Spy: The New Gravitational-Wave Project Using Citizen Science

    LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, is the most sensitive and complex gravitational experiment ever created. When researchers look at the information LIGO receives from the Universe, they also confront the instrumental and environmental noise the observatory picks up. Gravity Spy lets the lay public act as citizen scientists to help categorize noise, or glitches, in the massive amounts of data coming from the detectors here on Earth that first heard gravitational waves.

    As the Gravity Spy team explains, “Humans still are far better than computers at recognizing subtle differences across images and when an image simply does not fit within a known category. Please help us identify all of the glitch morphologies and open up an even bigger window into the gravitational wave universe!”

    The Gravity Spy team is made up of LIGO researchers within CIERA, LIGO researchers at Cal State Fullerton, machine learning researchers at Northwestern University, crowd-sourced science researchers at Syracuse University, and Zooniverse web developers. Gravity Spy is funded by the NSF INSPIRE 1547880 grant.

    Learn more at
    Read the CIERA Research Highlight.
    Read the Daily Zooniverse Announcement.
    Read Citizen Scientists Join Search for Gravitational Waves on Symmetry.
    Read Researchers Turn to “Citizen Scientists” for Help Identifying Gravitational Waves from the University of Alabama, Huntsville.
    Read about Gravity Spy in Syracuse University's The Daily Orange.
    Read Physics Student a 'Gravity Spy' from California State University, Fullerton.
    Read LIGO Magazine article Written by graduate student, Michael Zevin
    Read Advancing the Search for Gravitational Waves with Next-Generation Citizen Science on CQG+.


    Graduate Student Kyle Kremer Recognized for Exceptional Work at NSF Event

    Graduate student Kyle Kremer represented the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the Chicago-area National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship event last week, and was one of five NSF fellows recognized for exceptional work over the past year. In particular, Kyle's ongoing efforts to develop interdisciplinary collaboration between music and science were recognized for characterizing the ideals of NSF's outreach and broader impacts initiative. At the event, Kyle spoke briefly to current and former Chicago-area NSF fellows about some of his current projects, including his multimedia show, Solar System Symphony, which was premiered last spring as a partnership between CIERA and NU's Bienen School of Music.


    Undergraduate Rebecca Diesing Honored with Oliver Marcy Scholarship

    Each year Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences recognizes undergraduates for outstanding academic achievement. For her work in the natural sciences and mathematics, Physics & Astronomy senior Rebecca Diesing was selected as one of three Oliver Marcy Scholars. Oliver Marcy was a professor of natural science at Northwestern from 1862 to 1899 and acting University president for six years. Rebecca’s research advisor is Professor Farhad Yusef-Zadeh.

    Earlier in Rebecca’s undergraduate career, she experienced zero gravity as part of Northwestern’s Microgravity Team when she flew aboard NASA’s legendary “Vomit Comet.” Read the Weinberg article.


    September 2016



    Carl Rodriguez Awarded MIT Pappalardo Postdoctoral Fellowship in Physics

    Carl Rodriguez has graduated and begun a postdoctoral position at MIT. Carl studies the formation, dynamics, and gravitational-wave implications of black holes from dense star clusters. Here at Northwestern, he worked with Professor Fred Rasio on modeling globular clusters and with Professor Vicky Kalogera on gravitational-wave parameter estimation. His dissertation, titled “Modeling Dense Star Clusters and Their Implications for Advanced LIGO,” focused on the interface between the two subjects.

    Carl contributed significantly to CIERA’s work in public outreach and STEM education while at Northwestern. He gave numerous public lectures over the years, served as a mentor, and taught high school students as a GK12 Fellow in the Reach for the Stars program.

    View movies by Carl Rodriguez on his web site: BH Dynamics
    View Carl’s TEDx Northwestern talk: Listening to Einstein’s Final Symphony

    Congratulations Carl!


    CIERA’s Laura Sampson Wins L'Oréal USA 2016 For Women in Science Fellowship

    CIERA postdoctoral fellow Laura Sampson is among five female scientists honored with the 2016 For Women in Science Fellowship from L'Oréal USA. The program recognizes exemplary female scientists for their contributions in STEM and their commitment to serving as role models for younger generations. As part of the award, Dr. Sampson will receive $60,000 to advance her postdoctoral research. Along with the other recipients, she will visit the White House, the National Academy of Sciences, a New Jersey public school, and L'Oréal Headquarters.

    Read the full announcement from L'Oréal USA.
    Read the Northwestern News announcement.
    Read the Spotlight on Laura from TGS.
    Read about Laura's achievement in the ChicagoInno.
    Meet all of the 2016 Fellows.

    All photos, credit: L’Oréal


    CIERA Graduate Students Demonstrate Their Expertise in Seven Minutes or Less

    On September 13, 2016, CIERA graduate students Katie Breivik and Sam Hadden showcased their skills in public speaking at an event entitled “Seven Minutes of Science.”

    Seven Minutes of Science is organized by the Ready Set Go (RSG) program—which was founded at Northwestern in 2012 by our own Michelle Paulsen, and Alex Adler. The program was created to increase awareness for the need of excellent science communicators, and to coach graduate and post doc researchers to improve their presentation skills. Seven Minutes of Science is the culmination of weeks of practice and coaching, where the RSG students present on their academic research to an audience of diverse backgrounds within a seven-minute time frame.

    This year there were twelve speakers present, discussing their research in a broad range of scientific topics—from designing shared driverless cars, to the use of microbes to solve problems of energy and pollution. Sam and Katie represented CIERA by speaking on their astrophysical investigations.

    Sam’s presentation was titled What are Other Worlds Like?, and discussed NASA’s Kepler mission: dedicated to finding and characterizing exoplanets. He is working to measure the masses of the thousands of new planets that have been discovered by Kepler, and to distinguish potential similarities and differences between our solar system and others.

    Katie’s talk was called Whispers from the Stellar Graveyard. She spoke of her investigations of star evolution, and how we can study the lifecycle of a star by examining their deaths. The black holes that are created when a star ‘dies’ can now be further researched due to the tracking of their gravity, and the gravitational waves they make when they interact with one another.

    A connected event also took place on September 12 at Northwestern’s Chicago campus, where seven other researchers presented.

    Click pictures to view larger images.


    Dearborn Observatory and CIERA Contribute to NU STEM & Sports Outreach Event

    Every year, Northwestern University Athletics organizes an NU STEM & Sports Day: as part of Saturday pre-game activities, they invite Scouts and their families to campus to sample the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) research that Northwestern pursues.

    At this year's event, on September 12th, Northwestern astronomers contributed by hosting about 25 Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, their parents and brothers & sisters at Dearborn Observatory. Graduate student Cody Dirks gave everyone the opportunity to view the Sun through two different telescopes (with solar filters!). Not only were we lucky that the weather cleared just in time for the event, but there was also a solar storm visible. Then, graduate student Kyle Kremer gave the group a short introduction to the solar system, showed the students a demonstration on the vacuum of space, and answered questions from all attendees -- from the young scouts to the parents who came with them.

    Thanks to Kyle & Cody for their work in hosting all of these students, and to Dearborn Observatory!

    Click pictures to view larger images.


    CIERA’s Fellows at the Frontiers 2016: Astronomy Research on the Cutting-edge

    Forty invited postdoctoral fellows gathered from around the U.S. and Canada from August 31 – September 2 for CIERA’s Fellows at the Frontiers 2016 (FF16). A wide range of research topics was covered during the 3-day conference at Norris University Center, as each scientist came to the podium to give a 20-minute talk on their area of expertise. The talks were organized in groups of four per session, in a refreshing random sequence to prevent “topic fatigue.” Session breaks were provided to allow this new generation of researchers to network with members of the audience (primarily graduate students, faculty, and science enthusiasts from the community) as well as with each other. Please view the FF16 Scientific Program online to find talk titles and abstracts.

    The fellows and attendees enjoyed an opening night reception and lunch at the new Ryan Center for the Musical Arts. Several fellows stayed through the holiday weekend for the Chicago Jazz Festival. On the final day of the conference, a special lunch was held with American Astronomical Society president Christine Jones Forman. Dr. Jones Forman invited an informal discussion on “anything but science,” which led to a dialog on careers, among many topics. Dr. Jones Forman made a point of encouraging the fellows to write to their congressional representatives to inform them of their work and to thank them for crucial federal support.

    FF16 is a sequel to the 2011 CIERA inaugural conference entitled “The Future of Astronomy — Fellows at the Frontiers of Science.” At future occurrences of this event, we hope to see several of the FF16 speakers return to Evanston!

    FF16 Scientific
    Organizing Committee
    Event Support,
    Graduate Students
    Event Support,
    Staff Members
    Fred Rasio (chair)
    Sourav Chatterjee
    Claude-André Faucher-Giguère
    Laura Fissel
    Vicky Kalogera
    Alex Richings
    Laura Sampson
    Peter Ashton
    Katie Breivik
    Adam Dempsey
    Fani Dosopoulou
    Sam Hadden
    Zach Hafen
    Michael Katz
    Niharika Sravan
    Mike Zevin
    Peter Anglada
    John Everett
    Gretchen Oehlschlager
    Michelle Paulsen
    Lisa Raymond
    Melodie Swanson

    CIERA’s Fellows at the Frontiers 2016 conference was made possible by the National Science Foundation, grant number 1518974, as well as CIERA’s generous circle of donors. Learn about giving to the CIERA Circle.

    SOC Chair Fred Rasio & AAS President Christine Jones Forman Views of Lake Michigan from the Ryan Center CIERA’s Laura Sampson on Gravitational Waves Sarah Ballard on Exoplanets
    Story Cover Photo Credit: Bruce Powell

    Raffaella Margutti Joins CIERA to Investigate the Biggest Explosions in Our Universe

    As part of a 5-year faculty expansion initiative in the Physics & Astronomy Department, Dr. Raffaella Margutti, an expert on supernovae, has joined Northwestern as an assistant professor. Dr. Margutti was previously a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Institute for Theory and Computation.

    At CIERA, Dr. Margutti’s group will work with broad-band observations (from X-rays to radio) and modelling of astronomical transients. On Dr. Margutti's web site, she describes supernovae and gamma-ray bursts as the biggest explosions in our Universe. She states that both phenomena signal the catastrophic death of stars, leading to the birth of exotic compact objects like neutron stars and black holes. Investigating the high-energy properties of these explosions, she is working to understand the physical processes that cause such a dramatic energy release in a matter of seconds. Alongside her impressive research, “open science” is a special area of interest for Dr. Margutti. She works on the Open Supernova Catalog, a centralized, open repository for supernova data. (Read about open science on the Winnower.)

    A recent article for Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences states, “…as one of the nation’s very few universities with both a LIGO group and a team that studies ‘transient astronomy’, Northwestern is well positioned to continue its run as a national leader, especially as the National Science Foundation has identified multi-messenger astronomy and gravitational waves as one of the agency’s top priorities.” Read the full article: Upward Trajectory.

    Dr. Margutti will be joined at CIERA by Postdoctoral Associate Deanne Coppejans in November.

    Past News and Announcements