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Astronomy researcher receives grant to study star lifecycles

A University of Toledo astronomer’s research will help shed light on two poorly understood stages in the lifecycle of a star cluster — just before they are born and very soon after they form.

Dr. Rupali Chandar, UT associate professor of astronomy, is the principal investigator for “The Birth and Death of Stellar Clusters: Uncloaking the Roles of Stars, Gas and Physical Environment in Nearby Galaxies,” a study that was recently awarded a $270,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Chandar

Chandar

“This new funding from the National Science Foundation will allow me and my team to answer some fundamental questions about star cluster formation and dissolution in nearby galaxies,” Chandar said. “We will take advantage of key new observations from premier ground-based telescopes in order to build on previous results based on data taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. A better understanding of the full lifecycle of star clusters, from birth to death, has important implications for many areas of astronomy.”

Star cluster formation is one of the most fundamental processes in galaxies, and occurs over an incredibly diverse range of environments and physical conditions, far broader than those found in the Milky Way alone, Chandar said.

Observations from the National Science Foundation’s new Atacama Large Millimeter Array, the most expensive ground-based telescope in operation, enable direct study of clouds in distant galaxies covering a much wider range of physical conditions than our nearest neighbors. The properties of these clouds, when compared with those of young star clusters in the same galaxy, provide important clues to understand the efficiency with which stars and clusters form under different physical conditions, she said.

“Dr. Chandar’s research grant is particularly noteworthy given the very competitive nature of research in the field of astronomy. Our faculty compete with colleagues from around the country for funding from federal agencies like the National Science Foundation,” said Dr. William Messer, UT vice president for research. “Dr. Chandar’s success in garnering support for studies of star formation builds on our strong reputation in the natural sciences and provides exciting research and training opportunities for our students.”

The grant also will support Girls in Science, which is an all-day outreach event aimed to foster middle school girls’ interest in science through age-appropriate, hands-on activities.

“This grant award highlights the excellent work being done by Dr. Chandar and her team. The project will address the most fundamental questions about how star clusters form in galaxies, improving our understanding of the processes that led to our universe today,” said Dr. Karen Bjorkman, dean of UT’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “It will expand our astronomers’ and students’ use of the most cutting-edge international astronomical facilities in the world such as the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, while simultaneously leveraging the strength of UT’s partnership with the Lowell Observatory and the Discovery Channel Telescope. It also continues our tradition of bringing the joy of discovery to our community through outreach, such as the Girls in Science program, to help inspire the next generation of scientists.”

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