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UMass Dartmouth Professor Awarded Supercomputer Time to Study Star Formation

Dr. Robert Fisher, UMass Dartmouth assistant professor of physics, is studying the chemistry of "stellar nurseries" in deep space to help us understand how stars are formed.

Dr. Robert Fisher, UMass Dartmouth assistant professor of physics, is studying the chemistry of "stellar nurseries" in deep space to help us understand how stars are formed.

The professor was awarded 300,000 supercomputer hours at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications in Illinois through the National Science Foundation Teragrid Program. The allocated supercomputer hours amount to the computer power available to a desktop computer over five years running 24 hours per day or a single human being over the lifespan of the universe doing one computation per second.

He is investigating the astrochemical evolution of giant molecular clouds where stars form. "My research will help answer the question, how do stars form? That question ties into how life forms and how planets form around stars," he said. "Like people, stars are born and die."

Giant molecular clouds, such as Taurus and Orion in our galaxy, are dusty and gaseous with temperatures just a few degrees above absolute zero. Nearly all known star formation occurs within their dense, cold confines, he said. To date, more than 140 molecular species have been detected.

Dr. Fisher has developed innovative computer simulation techniques to explore the existence of certain molecules. These molecules require temperatures of several hundred degrees, well above the mean temperatures of the background cloud. "It is amazing that they exist in the first place because the temperature is very cold and some molecules require much hotter conditions to grow," he said.

Using an analogy of cars in a traffic jam, Dr. Fisher explained that when gases push together, the atmosphere heats up in something called "shocks." His research attempts to understand how chemistry behaves during these incidents.

The TeraGrid facility partners with several high-performance computing sites and provides the world's largest infrastructure for open science research.

Dr. Fisher joined the faculty at UMass Dartmouth in September 2008. Previously, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of California Berkeley.
 

Author:  "John Hoey"
Date:  14-Oct-2008
Department:   Physics

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