UCSC ranked first for impact of faculty research in space sciences

In a new analysis of scholarly publications from top U.S. universities, the University of California, Santa Cruz, ranked first for the impact of its faculty in the field of space sciences. The findings reaffirm UCSC's reputation as a center of excellence for research in astronomy and related fields.

The analysis was conducted by ISI (founded as the Institute for Scientific Information), a Philadelphia-based company that publishes summaries of scientific journals in Current Contents and offers a range of services involving analysis of scholarly information. The ISI survey of "high-impact universities" in space science was published on the organization's web site in February (in-cites.com/research/2003/february_10_2003-1.html).

ISI's rankings are based on an analysis of scholarly citations. When researchers publish a journal article, they must cite previous papers by other authors that set the stage for their work. Generally, a paper that describes important findings or ideas and influences the work of other researchers receives more citations than less influential papers. ISI analysts consider the average number of citations per paper, or "citation impact," as the most objective way to gauge the quality of a department's or an institution's research.

In the category of space sciences, ISI includes "astronomy and astrophysics, celestial bodies, and observation and interpretation of radiation from the component parts of the universe." The latest survey looked at the top 100 federally funded U.S. universities that published at least 300 papers in ISI-indexed journals of space science between 1997 and 2001, and ranked them by average citations per paper. UC Berkeley took the number two spot after UCSC.

A previous ISI survey, published in 1999, ranked UCSC number one for the impact of faculty publications in the field of astrophysics for the period 1994 to 1998.

"The fact that we continue to be at the top of this list means that it's not the same old papers that keep us up there. It must be because we continue to do good work," said Stan Woosley, professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics at UCSC.

UCSC's faculty include leading researchers on both the observational and theoretical aspects of space sciences. Woosley said the campus is especially strong in three general areas of research: cosmology and extragalactic astronomy (the study of distant galaxies and the evolution of the universe); high-energy astrophysics (supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, etc.); and extrasolar planets (the discovery and characterization of planets outside the solar system).

Many of the astronomers at UCSC are affiliated with both the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the UC Observatories/Lick Observatory (UCO/Lick), which is headquartered on the UCSC campus. UCO/Lick oversees UC's participation in the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and the Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton near San Jose. The Keck Observatory houses the world's largest optical and infrared telescopes, the twin Keck I and Keck II Telescopes. UCSC astronomers were closely involved in the design and construction of the Keck Telescopes and many of the major instruments used with them. The Lick Observatory, established in 1888, was the first major mountaintop observatory and continues to be an important research site.

Also based at UCSC is the Center for Adaptive Optics, a national center focused on the advancement and application of adaptive optics technology, used to correct for changing distortions that cause blurring of images. In astronomy, adaptive optics can remove the blurring effect of the Earth's atmosphere, enabling ground-based telescopes to see as clearly as space-based telescopes.

The center, established in 1999 and funded by the National Science Foundation, has attracted new scientists to UCSC and is supporting cutting-edge research on subjects such as black holes and extrasolar planets, in addition to advancing the technology of adaptive optics.

"There are new areas where we are excelling, not just the same things we were doing five years ago," Woosley said.

UCSC faculty in the Departments of Physics and Earth Sciences are also making important contributions in the area of space sciences and have active collaborations with their colleagues in astronomy and astrophysics. For example, the Center for Origin, Dynamics and Evolution of Planets, part of UCSC's branch of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, brings together researchers from all three departments to study planets in our solar system and around other stars.

"There is a lot more interdisciplinary activity now than there was five years ago, and that may be part of the reason UCSC continues to be such a center of excellence," Woosley said.