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Penn State Ranked in Top 5 for Astrophysics Research

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07 November 2008

Credit: NASA
Penn State plays a major role in the design and operation of NASA's Swift satellite, which is discovering titanic explosive events billions of light-years from Earth.

Penn State is ranked among the top five institutions in the United States for its research in astronomy and astrophysics, according to a new research study published this week in the on-line journal of astrophysics, Astro-Ph. The study was conducted by A. L. Kinney, the former director of the astrophysics division of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The investigation evaluated 36 institutions with doctoral-degree programs for the impact of their published research in astronomy from 1993 to 2003. Penn State ranked fourth in the nation for the astronomical research performed in its academic departments, laboratories, centers, and other research facilities.

"While one must always take such rankings of academic impact with an appropriate dose of salt, it is gratifying that a straightforward, objective study by a disinterested and respected senior scientist rates our program so highly," said Lawrence Ramsey, professor of astronomy and astrophysics and head of the Penn State Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. "I believe that this ranking reflects the rapid increase in the quality of our academic program over the past two decades, including hiring of a number of young faculty and involvement in a number of premier international astronomical projects such as the high-impact Chandra and Swift space missions, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope and large-scale surveys such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope."

The top four departments in terms of astronomical impact based upon all researchers in the institution are the University of California at Santa Cruz, Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University, and Penn State. Two additional Big Ten institutions, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, were sixth and tenth, respectively, in this category.

The Penn State Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics contains 16 tenure-track faculty members and 21 additional research faculty members and scientists with Ph.D. degrees. The department has close ties with the Department of Physics; in particular, with research groups working in gravitational physics and particle astrophysics.

"This study is another indicator that our faculty is having a significant impact on astronomical research, and that the students who are working with them are in a program that is training, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, future leaders in science and technology," said Ramsey. "Students here have a wide range of opportunities, from working with the scientist who discovered the first planets outside of our solar system to operating a satellite that is discovering titanic explosive events billions of light-years from Earth."

[ D P S / B K K ]

Lawrence Ramsey: (+1)814-865-0418, lwr@psu.edu
Barbara Kennedy (PIO): 814-863-4682, science@psu.edu

A copy of the paper is available on the web at http://arxiv.org/abs/0811.0311

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