The Department of Physics at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez (UPRM) received a 3-year award from the National Science Foundation's Partnerships for Research and Education in Physics (NSF PREP) Program for the total amount of $520,646. This award will fund a partnership between UPRM Physics and the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) Physics Frontiers Center (PFC). The Principal Investigator (PI) of this research and educational partnership is Dr. Henri Radovan (UPRM Physics), while the participating NANOGrav institutions include West Virginia University (co-PI and NANOGrav PFC co-Director Dr. Maura McLaughlin), University of Central Florida/Arecibo Observatory (co-PI Dr. Benetge Perera), Rochester Institute of Technology (co-PI Dr. Michael Lam), and Franklin & Marshall College (co-PI Dr. Fronefield Crawford). Other senior personnel at UPRM Physics include Dr. Erick Roura.
The NSF Division of Physics' Partnerships for Research and Education in Physics (PREP) program aims to enable and grow partnerships between minority-serving institutions and Division-supported Physics Frontiers Centers (PFC) to increase the participation of members of underrepresented groups in physics through excellent research and education endeavors that advance physics research goals. NANOGrav is one of currently 11 NSF supported Physics Frontiers Centers and has in total over 200 members at more than 50 institutions across North America.
NANOGrav’s mission is to detect and characterize low-frequency gravitational waves from supermassive black hole binaries in the cores of merging galaxies. This will be achieved by timing the arrival of pulses from an array of about 80 millisecond pulsars across our galaxy. The exceptional precision of the radio pulses rivals those of atomic clocks and can be used to detect a certain correlation pattern common to all pulsars which would then establish the presence of gravitational waves. The NANOGrav collaboration engages in fundamental research on topics of pulsars, black holes, radio observations, and data processing, as well as in many complementary educational and outreach activities.
The main objectives of the NSF PREP award are to advance key NANOGrav science goals in detector growth and characterization and to provide research opportunities for UPRM Physics undergraduate students in astrophysics. This in turn will provide a pathway for students to enter graduate school on the mainland and directly lead to an increase in US STEM workforce diversity, an NSF key mission. Planned activities include NANOGrav workshop and meeting participation on the mainland, as well as education in pulsar astrophysics and radio astronomy observational methods by organizing workshops in the UPRM Department of Physics and the Arecibo Observatory (AO). Another activity will provide undergraduate students the opportunity to join the NANOGrav Space Public Outreach Team (SPOT) and present NANOGrav science at local high schools. This will provide K-12 students with a perspective of cutting-edge astronomy research, foster the growth of a diverse STEM pipeline, and connect to the long tradition of radio astronomy activities on the island.
In August 2022, NANOGrav and the UPRM Department of Physics organized a pulsar astronomy workshop at AO in which 16 UPRM Physics students participated, together with three graduate students from NANOGrav institutions, an AO staff scientist, and two UPRM Physics professors (above). Attending on behalf of West Virginia University was Evan Lewis and Timothy Olszanski, both of WVU Physics and Astronomy, and the Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology.
Future plans include a series of such workshops alternating between UPRM Physics and AO that will enable students a full immersion in NANOGrav science and activities and retain a connection with AO.
Dr. Elizabeth Ferrara
NANOGrav press officer
Public Relations Specialist
Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology