The Ohio State University at Newark

Ohio State Newark Professor Works on #1 Ranked NASA Satellite Mission

NEWARK, Ohio, November 30, 2016 – A satellite mission that The Ohio State University at Newark Physics and Astronomy Assistant Professor Michael Stamatikos supports was recently ranked number one by NASA in science output among similar class, ongoing missions. Stamatikos is a member of the Swift satellite mission science team and has been affiliated with NASA since 2006, when he was selected as a NASA postdoctoral fellow at Goddard Space Flight Center (NASA-GSFC). He’s maintained his affiliation with NASA-GSFC as an off-site astrophysicist supporting the Swift and Fermi satellite missions. As a faculty member of Ohio State University’s Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics (CCAPP), Stamatikos leads research in high-energy particle astrophysics featuring gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), transient beacons of high-energy electromagnetic radiation that ultimately result in one of nature’s most enigmatic creations: a black hole.

“I’m thrilled that the work we are doing with Swift is being recognized by NASA,” said Stamatikos. “I am honored to be a part of such important and exciting work.”

Swift was launched in 2004 and is a NASA medium-class explorer satellite mission. It is the first multi-wavelength observatory dedicated to the study of GRB science, which has facilitated several breakthroughs.

“The influence of Gravity spans the entire Cosmos, and it plays a critical yet contradictory role in catalyzing both the thermonuclear birth and cataclysmic death of stars. Ultimately, gravity is simultaneously the most familiar yet least understood force. The century-old problem is due to the fundamental incompatibility of Quantum Mechanics, a pillar of modern physics, and Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity - our most successful theory of gravity. This conundrum has motivated some exotic theoretical models of ‘quantum gravity’ that predict an energy-dependent speed of light, i.e. low energy photons (particles of light) would travel faster through spacetime than high energy photons,” said Stamatikos. “However, the constancy of the speed of light is a fundamental consequence of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. Both the Special and General Theory of Relativity, which are critical to many practical applications, such as GPS, have been proven many times over. So therein lies the problem. Using Swift and Fermi, crucial observations were made of the last photons that escaped from a star prior to becoming a black hole more than 7 billion years ago. Our observations confirmed that the speed of light was in fact constant and does not depend upon photon energy in a new and untested regime, given the unique cosmological distance traveled by photons spanning a vast energy range. Consequently, our result confirmed Einstein’s prediction and put limits upon some theoretical parameters of quantum gravity models that were otherwise unconstrained.”

Swift carries the following three co-aligned, scientific instruments: Burst Alert Telescope (BAT), X-Ray Telescope (XRT) and UltraViolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT), which allow for simultaneous analysis of GRB emission at different photon energies.

“As a member of the Swift team, I serve as a BAT Burst Scientist (BBS) and Burst Advocate (BA) in shifts throughout a given month. When I’m on duty as a BBS, I help to make sure that the BAT instrument is operating normally. More importantly, I respond in real time, around the clock, to GRBs that trigger Swift which sends text messages to my cell phone,” said Stamatikos. “Once an alert is received, I, along with colleagues from Swift’s other two instruments (XBS & UBS), start analyzing the data and send out an alert to the general astronomical community so that they can also observe the same event if they so wish.”

Ohio State Newark undergraduate students conduct research with Stamatikos using NASA data from the Swift mission. Three of Stamatikos’ students won first and second place prizes in Ohio State Newark’s Student Research Forum over the last two consecutive years. Stamatikos constantly tries to enhance the classroom experience for students by sharing anecdotes with them from his professional research experience and was awarded the “Best New Undergraduate Mentor Award” in 2016.

“I’ve had several students, at all levels, working with me on research,” said Stamatikos. “It’s an incredible opportunity for students to be a part of active science research that pushes the horizon of discovery. The fact that students can work on astrophysics with NASA on the Newark campus is quite remarkable.”

Stamatikos will present his research on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 5 p.m. as part of the Faculty Talks Outside the Box lecture series. His talk, “The Enigma of Cosmic Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs),” will be held in the Melissa Warner Bow Grand Hall in the John Gilbert Reese Center, 1209 University Drive, Newark. Attendees are invited to stay for a reception and lecture from 6-8 p.m. with elephant expert Harry Peachey.

The Ohio State University at Newark offers an academic environment that’s challenging but supportive with world-renowned professors and access to Ohio State’s more than 200 majors. It’s where learning comes to life. Research, study abroad and service learning opportunities prepare students for their careers in ways they never expected.