Physics Professor John O'Meara awarded nearly $1 million in grants with three other scientists


John O'MearaSaint Michael's Physics Professor John O'Meara and three other scientists have been awarded nearly $1 million in NSF and NASA grants to explore galaxies, gases and stars in distant space.

O'Meara is part of two teams of scientists that together have been awarded the research funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and from NASA to study, in ever-greater depth, how galaxies are formed in outer space. 

"The student connection is pretty strong," Professor O'Meara said. "I anticipate involving students in the data analysis which is extensive for both programs."

O'Meara is part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant titled "Building up and Tearing Down Galaxies: the Impact of Infalling and Outflowing Gas on Galaxy Evolution." The other participants are Principal Investigator Chris Howk at Notre Dame University, Nicolas Lehner at Notre Dame, and Ben Oppenheimer at the University of Colorado.  The total award for the grant is $460,058 to fund telescope observations, supercomputer simulations, and data analysis.

O'Meara described the NSF grant this way: "The primary goal of this work is to combine existing space-based data from the Hubble Space Telescope with new-ground based observations from the Keck and Large Binocular Telescopes to characterize the environments surrounding galaxies, and to see how those environments affect and are affected by those environments.  Our goal is ultimately to understand how galaxies get the gas they need to fuel stars, and how that process changes with time."

The second grant, titled "A COS Legacy Study of Circumgalactic Baryons" from NASA through The Space Telescope Science Institute is for $407,781. The scientists receiving the grant include Professor O'Meara, Principal Investigator Nicolas Lehner, and Professors Howk and Oppenheimer. The grant will fund a large archival program to study data from the Hubble Space Telescope, and to create one of the largest databases of space-based quasar absorption line data in the world.

O'Meara described the NASA/Space Telescope Grant this way: "The goal of this grant is similar to that of the NSF grant, but relies entirely on existing data from the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) onboard the Hubble Space Telescope. By using COS spectra of hundreds of quasars, we hope to understand the amount and distribution of gas in and around galaxies, and how that gas is affected by star formation within the galaxies."

Cosmological simulations

(in both grants) "We also intend to perform cosmological simulations using supercomputers to model the gas-galaxy interface, and to place our observational results on a firmer theoretical foundation."

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