Astrophysicist Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz to participate in new research initiative

Scialog Fellows chosen for "Time Domain Astrophysics" initiative include six with UC Santa Cruz connections

Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz  (Photo by Elena Zhukova)

Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics, is among 40 Scialog Fellows chosen to participate in a major new research initiative in Time Domain Astrophysics funded by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA).

The two-year Scialog initiative brings together early career scientists in astronomy, astrophysics, and computational science to pursue collaborative research in "time domain astrophysics," which refers to the study of astronomical events that change over relatively short timescales, such as exploding stars, gamma-ray bursts, and active galactic nuclei. The advent of automated telescopes and surveys that cover most of the sky has led to new opportunities to study and understand these events.

UC Santa Cruz has been at the forefront of research in this area. Ramirez-Ruiz noted that the Scialog Fellows for Time Domain Astrophysics include former UC Santa Cruz graduate students Andrew MacFadyen (now at New York University) and Laura Lopez (now at Ohio State University), as well as former UCSC postdoctoral researchers Daniel Kasen (now at UC Berkeley), Kevin Moore (now at Claremont McKenna College), and Mike Zingale (now at SUNY Stony Brook).

"UCSC is clearly seen as a pivotal incubator of talent in this emerging field," Ramirez-Ruiz said. "Transient objects have always played a crucial role in the development of astronomy and in the use of astronomical observations to illuminate new physics. In the next few years, the largest growth area is in surveys of the transient sky."

He explained that, in terms of the volume of the universe in which the surveys are sensitive for the detection of transient phenomena, current surveys have effective volumes more than ten times larger than previous observational efforts. Future surveys, such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), are expected to be at least 100 times larger than current ones.

"We are confident that the new surveys will yield a wide variety of new transients and supernovae, in part because smaller volume surveys have recently yielded a handful of very unusual events," said Ramirez-Ruiz, who has studied and interpreted many of these observations.

Two Scialog conferences, in fall 2015 and 2016, are planned for the Time Domain Astrophysics initiative. The conferences will be attended by the early career Scialog Fellows and 10 distinguished senior scientists, with the goal of identifying bottlenecks, finding avenues for breakthroughs, and building new scientific teams to pursue these ideas with funding from RCSA.

RCSA's Scialog program supports research, intensive dialog, and community building to address scientific challenges of global significance. Within each multi-year initiative, Scialog Fellows collaborate in high-risk discovery research on untested ideas and communicate their progress in annual closed conferences. RCSA is a private foundation that supports basic research in the physical sciences at U.S. colleges and universities.