Astronomy is believed to have begun when our ancestors first looked toward the heavens. They could have hardly imagined the inquiries begin conducted today, the kind of research currently being by associate professor of physics and astronomy Dr. Prashanth Jaikumar.
“We were all formed by the same soup. Every atom that can be found on the earth was once inside some other star,” Jaikumar said.
Jaikumar is fascinated by quarks, the elementary particles that form protons and neutrons. These have been detected in experiments, but no one has found them in space. He is looking for magnetic signatures to boost his research, in addition to studying gravitational waves, which ripples through space-time and provide insights into Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, black holes and the nature of the universe.
Jaikumar believes heavy elements, such as lead, gold and uranium come from the stars, as well the carbon, nitrogen and oxygen in our bodies. Therefore, we literally are all made from the stars. Heavy elements, though, have an even more dramatic origin story. They come from stellar explosions called supernovae or collisions between collapsed suns called neutron stars.
Jaikumar’s research currently is supported by the National Science Foundation with a three-year $180,000 grant. He previously has received grants from NASA ($60,000) to support a graduate research student and from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement ($45,000) for domestic and international travel to conferences, where he presented his students’ work to the scientific community.
“The students have to get a publication and, if possible, attend a conference,” Jaikumar said. “We want to make sure students who want to go on to a Ph.D. program get there.”