Dr. Saurabh Jha (Rutgers University New Brunswick) will carry out a long-term plan of integrated research and education to firm up the foundations of supernova cosmology, put Type Ia supernovae (SNe Ia) to a new use as a tool to study dark matter, and prepare the next generation of astronomers for new research methods to study the changing sky. As the samples of supernovae discovered by current and planned surveys grow, the precision of constraints on dark energy parameters hits a floor of systematic uncertainty. Dr. Jha will study the major limiting factors, with a goal of reducing current systematics by (1) characterizing the supernova (SN) host-galaxy dust extinction, (2) identifying more robust and precise subsamples of SNe Ia, and (3) constraining SN Ia progenitors, explosion models, and luminosity evolution through the study of peculiar objects. In addition, Dr. Jha will bring these cosmological tools to bear on a new problem: studying the dark matter distribution in clusters of galaxies using lensed SNe Ia whose absolute magnification can be measured in current surveys and planned observations with Rutgers' share of the Southern African Large Telescope. These projects will lay the groundwork for comprehensive studies of supernovae and time-domain astrophysics in general with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope as the results from this program will directly impact the design and execution of future supernova cosmology surveys.
Dr. Jha will also integrate this research into his and Rutgers' educational mission, with a primary focus on upper-division classes for science majors. Dr. Jha plans to bring peer-learning techniques to an unusually large (50 students) third-year calculus-based introduction to astrophysics class, introduce problems based on current research with real data into the curriculum, and have students write archival research proposals on topics in time-domain astrophysics. Dr. Jha will also recruit undergraduates for summer research projects, with an emphasis on students from underrepresented groups who may not otherwise consider career options in basic research.