Villanova Research Team Helps Commission New Camera for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy

Villanova Research Team Develops New Camera for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy
Pictured (left to right): Villanova student Joe Michail, '19 CLAS; Dr. David Chuss, ’95 CLAS, professor of Physics; and Dr. Javad Siah, assistant professor of Physics.

VILLANOVA, Pa.—The formation of stars is inextricably linked to the formation of planets, and stars ultimately provide the energy that is essential for the support of life. In the Orion Nebula, the closest region of massive star formation to Earth, stars are born from the collapse of large clouds of interstellar gas and dust. In clouds like this, the star formation rate is mysteriously lower than expected. A Villanova University research team led by David Chuss, PhD, ’95 CLAS, professor of Physics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has played a key role in developing a new camera for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy that measures the polarization of radiation from such clouds, and in doing so unveils the magnetic fields that can affect the star formation process. The camera is called the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-plus (HAWC+), and its development was led by Darren Dowell, PhD, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The Villanova team, which also includes Javad Siah, PhD, assistant professor of Physics, and postdoctoral researcher Jordan Guerra, PhD, has led the analysis of the some of the first results from HAWC+. These measurements have shed new light on the shape and strength of the magnetic field in the Orion region and provide a glimpse into the potential of HAWC+ to increase critical understanding of how stars form.

“In general, stars form at a much lower rate than is expected from simple models,” said Dr. Chuss. “Magnetic fields are a possible mechanism that can explain why star formation is so inefficient. HAWC+ is well-poised to address this question and crack the case on this fundamental mystery in our understanding of the star formation process.”

Villanova student Joe Michail ’19 CLAS, who is double-majoring in both Astronomy and Physics, has been working with Dr. Chuss for three years on this remarkable research. Joe has flown on two SOFIA observation flights, contributed to the calibration of data from the instrument and assisted with the research paper.

“Since coming to Villanova, Joe has excelled. As a researcher, he has continued to demonstrate resourcefulness, thoughtfulness, creativity and diligence—all qualities that are essential to becoming a world-class scientist,” said Dr. Chuss. “His work in our collaboration has been of such high quality that it has attracted the attention of leaders in Infrared Astronomy.”

After working as an astrophysicist with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for 11 years, Dr. Chuss returned to the Villanova Department of Physics to teach. His work with NASA has created many unique research opportunities for students like Joe.

“Having Dr. Chuss as a faculty mentor since my freshman year has provided me with the kind of research experiences I don’t think I could have found anywhere else,” says Joe, who plans to move on to graduate school next year. “It’s been an amazing experience.”

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.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit