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Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy
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Astronomy and Astrophysics

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Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
110 Eighth Street, Troy, New York 12180-3590 USA

(518) 276-6310
Fax: (518) 276-6680

Astronomy and Astrophysics
Research Focus

Astronomy and Astrophysics

Research in this group includes astrobiology and the chemistry of the interstellar medium, as well as many areas of galactic and extragalactic astronomy.

Astrobiology and Interstellar Chemistry

Astrobiology is the interdisciplinary study of life in the universe: its origin on Earth, and its potential to exist elsewhere. Our research in astrobiology investigates the interstellar origins of the raw materials for life (water, organic molecules and planet-building solids), and their contribution to the inventories of protoplanetary disks. We use spectroscopic observations made by telescopes on Earth, in the stratosphere, and in space to accomplish this.

Theoretical projects include studies of shock waves in star forming regions, multifluid magnetohydrodynamics (MHD), MHD instabilities, the physics of dusty plasmas, and electromagnetic mechanisms for heating asteroids during the early solar system.  We do analytical calculations and are also significant users of Rensselaer's supercomputing facility.

Galactic and Extragalactic Astronomy

Research includes studies of how galaxies form and in particular how the Milky Way galaxy formed. The process of galaxy formation includes the gravitational effects of dark matter, the hydrodynamics of gas clouds, and energy feedback from formation and death of stars.  It is thought that galaxies like the Milky Way form through the merging of many smaller galaxies over the entire history of the Universe. This research is carried out in conjunction with a large, international collaboration called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.


Astrophysics applies physical principles and mathematical methods to the study of the cosmos, with the goal of enhancing our understanding of stars, planetary systems, interstellar matter, and galaxies—how they form, interact and evolve. Current research includes studies of the synthesis of biogenic compounds by shocks in the solar nebula, and of the physical and chemical properties of dust grains that carry biogenic elements in interstellar space and provide catalytic surfaces for molecule formation.


Heidi Newberg, Wayne Roberge, Doug Whittet

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