Astrophysics and Planetary Science Professor Andrej Prša, PhD, Receives $597,089 Grant from National Science Foundation

The grant will support a three-year research project on contact binary stars.

Andrej Prša, PhD

Villanova, Pa – Contact binary stars are a perplexing class of binary star systems in which two stars are so close to each other that they share a common envelope, resulting in a distinct peanut-shaped appearance. While they are relatively common and comprise about a fifth of all close binary stars, our understanding of their atmospheres and behavior has remained limited.

Andrej Prša, PhD, professor of Astrophysics and Planetary Science in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been named principal investigator on a three-year, $597,089 National Sciences Foundation grant for his research project, "Peanuts in Space: Solving the Thermodynamical Conundrum in Contact Binary Stars." Dr. Prša’s research seeks to unravel the mystery surrounding these stars by investigating the disparities in temperature and mass between the two stars in these systems.

"Our proposal aims to quantify the mass and energy flows within these systems and figure out the most prevalent mechanisms that cause them,” explains Dr. Prša. “By understanding these processes, we will be able to generalize them to atmospheres of other stars, including single, pulsating or even exploding stars."

The NSF grant will provide funding for Dr. Prša's research, supporting the work of a postdoctoral research fellow and enabling the participation of up to nine undergraduate students from Villanova University through summer research fellowships.

Dr. Prša expresses his appreciation for the NSF grant, sharing, “It’s always rewarding to receive funding as it highlights the scientific recognition of both the proposed project and the proposing team. This marks the fourth NSF award that my team has received to work on binary star science, and the first that will tackle contact binary stars.”

In a commitment to promote scientific literacy, Dr. Prša's team will publish quarterly articles aimed at explaining their research to a non-expert audience. Through these efforts, they hope to contribute to the broader understanding of science and attract young people to STEM fields, particularly astronomy.

Dr. Prša received his doctorate from the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenging and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.