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June 12


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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

University, RIT astronomers team up

Adam Frank

Two leaders in the study of the cosmos are coming together to create the Rochester Astrophysical Consortium (RAC), a team of astronomers and physicists comparable to the best academic research teams in the world. The University and Rochester Institute of Technology will share data and cooperate on projects such as NASA's Next Generation Space Telescope and the most sensitive airborne telescope ever developed. The collaboration was announced at the American Astronomical Society's biannual meeting, held in Rochester June 4 to June 8.

"Rochester is the optics center for the world, and what is astronomy but optics?" said Adam Frank, assistant professor of astronomy and RAC coordinator. "It's a perfect fit: two universities with cutting-edge astronomy programs with access to the world's best optics."

In addition to Rochester's optics facilities, members of the collaboration will have access to the most powerful laser in the world, the University's Omega laser. The team will use the laser to generate conditions that make the heart of the sun look like a pleasant summer day--conditions like those in supernova blast waves or hypersonic gas jets from newborn stars.

"Both our astronomy programs have much to be proud of, but together we'll be able to take on larger projects," said Ian Gatley, director of the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at RIT. The collaboration, he said, will help the researchers feed off the exchange of ideas, sparking new directions for exploration that may help bring more astronomers to Rochester to pursue those directions.

The two schools, both members of the University Space Research Association, have already begun working together--lining up interests to see where they overlap or complement each other, and even requesting research money from the National Science Foundation for projects that are too expansive for either group of scientists alone. The six astronomers from RIT, combined with the six from the University, yield an astronomy team comparable with the nation's biggest universities.

"We saw an opportunity," said Frank. "Both the University and RIT had hired several new astronomers and we saw that there was a synergy that was ripe for the picking. We can take two separate programs of excellence and create something even stronger."

The Strasenburgh Planetarium also has signed on as a member and Frank expects other Rochester institutions to become partners as well.

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