Exactly how galaxies form and develop is a mystery that has long eluded astronomers. So, it is crucial for scientists to unravel clues of galaxy formation and development. This project pursues three primary goals to move this field forward. The first goal is to read the assembly, interaction, and accretion history of early-type (elliptical and lenticular) galaxies through studies of the detailed properties of their cold gas. The second goal is to test empirical and theoretical models of the structure of the interstellar medium and its effect on star formation efficiency. Specifically, the true test of theoretical models of the interstellar medium will be whether the models developed for late-type spirals can be extended to the very different conditions inside elliptical and lenticular galaxies. The third goal is to pursue observational constraints on the role of active galactic nuclei (AGN)-driven feedback in clearing cold gas from galaxies, thus transforming their morphology and color and contributing to the establishment of today's Hubble sequence.

To accomplish these three goals, the investigators will use the observations of the volume-limited, well-studied ATLAS-3D sample of nearby early-type galaxies. Existing millimeter interferometers and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's (NRAO's) Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA) will map trace molecular species as astrochemical probes of the properties of the cold ISM, and will make deep observations of radio continuum emission from low level star formation activity and low level AGN activity. The astrochemical work will also be suitable for early Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) science proposals.

Educationally, the project will support two graduate student research assistants for three years as well as an undergraduate researcher. The project will also provide K-12 teacher training in science through the development of a radio astronomy course, related to the research project, delivered in a Master of Science Teaching program offered at New Mexico Tech for K-12 teachers. The teachers who benefit from this program will be teaching underrepresented students and thereby strengthening their exposure in and training for STEM careers. The research and training offered to K-12 teachers is hands-on using a radio telescope. The teachers learn not only how to collect and examine radio telescope data like the research project, but they also learn how the professional radio telescopes in New Mexico function, a tremendous and rare teacher training opportunity that integrates research and education.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST)
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Edward Ajhar
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New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
United States
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