Dr. Bevin A. Zauderer is awarded an NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship to carry out a program of research and education at Harvard University. The fellow's program utilizes radio observations of extremely energetic transient events to probe conditions in the early Universe and to illuminate their underlying physics. The fellow will execute an intensive observational program of the most energetic transient astrophysical phenomena in the Universe: gamma-ray bursts, supernovae, and tidal disruption of stars by supermassive black holes. These transient events release large amounts of energy in high velocity outflows, which approach the speed of light in some cases. As these outflows interact with the gas in the immediate surrounding environment, synchrotron emission is produced, which generally peaks at radio wavelengths. Radio observations from hours to months after the initial discovery provide unique and crucial information on the energy and geometry of these explosive events as well as the surrounding environment. The fellow will use world-class observatories to lead the rapid radio followup: the Very Large Array, the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter Astronomy, the Smithsonian Submillimeter Array, and the Atacama Large Millimeter-submillimeter Array. The fellow will measure the radio brightness of these transient events as a function of wavelength and time and will produce rich data sets to supplement the optical, infrared, and high-energy X-ray and gamma-ray observations. These radio observations will be synthesized to study the composition of the high-velocity outflow ejecta in gamma-ray bursts, to improve our understanding of the special population of gamma-ray bursts found at extreme distances in the early Universe, to determine characteristics of the environment around a previously dormant supermassive black hole, and to determine how often relativistic outflows are formed in supernovae and tidal disruption events.
The broader impacts of this project include a significant educational component. The fellow will undertake an educational program that will focus on the public's misconceptions of the concepts of her research involving high energy astrophysics, supermassive black holes, relativistic jets, and extremely distant galaxies. The fellow will work with a leading science educator in the Harvard Science Education Department to hone her skills teaching and communicating science, particularly to address common misconceptions. Her education and public outreach will have a broader impact in public policy through her work at the National Academy of Sciences on a report or workshop related to understanding and mitigating scientific misconceptions held by the public at large.