Astronomy — Graduate Research


Our astronomical research ranges from the innermost solar system to the most remote galaxies. Our observers use ten major observatories. These observatories span the spectrum: radio, infrared, optical, X-ray, and gamma-ray. Our observers study the early universe; galaxies; quasars; the energetic interplay between stars, gas, and magnetic fields near the Galactic center; supernovae; accretion of matter onto black holes; stars; and the interstellar medium. Instruments for rockets and ground-based telescopes are built by our high-energy observers. Our theorists study stellar winds, accretion disks, astrophysical turbulence, and the interstellar medium. We also use spacecraft to observe the planets and solar system.

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Our PhD astronomy students take a minimum of four semesters of graduate-level astronomy courses and two semesters of physics. Some students spend a period of residence at a radio telescope or gamma-ray observatory. With our instruments on major spacecraft, we are one of the few departments in the U.S. that offer students significant opportunities for spacecraft exploration of the solar system. Students hone their speaking skills in our weekly Space and Astrophysics seminar. Our PhDs are successful in their research careers at national observatories, laboratories, and universities. The degrees we offer are MS Astronomy and PhD Physics (Astronomy Subtrack).

Evan Abbuhl

Radio Astronomy of Binary Stars

Brandon Bergerud


Jesse Bluem


Sadie Elliott


Hai Fu

Extragalactic astronomy.

  • Galaxies that are normal galaxies across cosmic time and galaxies caught at especially energetic epochs (e.g., starbursts and quasars)
  • Multi-wavelength astronomical surveys: Sloan Digital Sky Survey IV; Cosmic Evolution Survey; Herschel ATLAS Survey; Herschel Multi-tiered Extragalactic Survey
  • Students design, prepare, and execute observational experiments for large ground-based and space-borne telescopes
  • Students develop programing skills by writing software to analyze data and develop database skills by mining data from large astronomical archives
Kenneth G. Gayley

Radiative transfer; radiation hydrodynamics; spectral line diagnostics.

  • Theory Topics: highly supersonic stellar winds accelerated by photon pressure; radiation transport in stellar atmospheres and disks; how massive stars lose mass prior to a supernova
  • Simulation Topics: colliding winds in hot-star binaries, radiation transport in outflows from stars
  • Students may participate in international collaboration in stellar research
  • Students' experience in writing dynamic numerical simulations prepares them for positions either as academic postdocs or as software specialists in industry
Arran Gross

Extragalactic Astronomy, Active Galactic Nuclei

Donald A. Gurnett

Experimental space plasma physics.

  • Experimental studies of planetary radio emissions and plasma waves
  • Student analysis of spacecraft data: Voyagers 1 and 2 (now interstellar space); Cassini (in orbit around Saturn); Cluster (consisting of four spacecraft in Earth orbit); Mars Express in orbit around Mars; and Juno (in orbit around Jupiter)
  • Supervised over 60 space physics thesis projects; former students now at NASA centers, industry, other universities
  • Students also interact with other group members, including research scientists, engineers, and programmers
Jasper S. Halekas

Experimental space physics.

  • Space plasma physics around moons and planets and in the interplanetary medium
  • Development of spaceflight instrumentation to make high-resolution measurements of charged particles
  • On-campus facilities include a laboratory for spaceflight hardware assembly and calibration
  • Students participate in the development of spaceflight instruments, in collaboration with engineers, scientists, and technicians at Iowa and partner institutions
  • Students  also analyze spacecraft data from the Earth, the Moon, Mars, the Sun and solar wind, and outer planets
  • Students gain skills in spaceflight hardware development, programming, and data analysis
 Gregory G. Howes

Theoretical and computational plasma physics.

  • Turbulence in the magnetized plasmas found in laboratories, space and astrophysics
  • Analysis of spacecraft data from the turbulent solar wind
  • Students develop skills including high-performance computing on the nation's fastest supercomputers, analysis of simulation and observational data, and development of simple analytical models to interpret results
  • Students also interact with group members including a postdoc and collaborators around the world
Philip E. Kaaret

X-ray and gamma-ray astronomy and instrumentation; CubeSats; black hole binaries; galactic X-ray halos.

  • X-ray binaries, ultraluminous X-ray sources, intermediate mass black holes
  • Galactic X-ray halo, missing baryon problem
  • Instrumentation for space-based astronomy, CubeSats
  • Students build instruments for launch into space
  • Students use satellite based observatories
  • Students develop skills in electronics, data analysis, and programming
Cornelia C. Lang

Radio astronomy; x-ray astronomy; observational study of interstellar medium and galactic center.

  • Observations are multi-wavelength, using both radio interferometry and X-ray imaging/spectroscopy
  • Topics include the interstellar medium of the galactic center: magnetic and X-ray phenomena, stellar winds, and ionized and molecular gas
  • Students use the Very Large Array (VLA), the Owens Valley Millimeter Array (OVRO) and the Chandra X-ray Observatory
  • Students develop skills with data reduction and analysis using astronomical software and they develop programming skills using IDL
  • Students supported by a pre-doctoral research fellowship may reside at the VLA and interact with staff radio astronomers
  • Students also interact with other astronomy faculty
Robert L. Mutel

Radio astronomy; space physics; plasma astrophysics.

  • Observations using radio telescopes and spacecraft
  • Astronomical instrumentation, especially optical spectroscopy
  • Stellar and planetary redio emission
  • Students use radio telescopes: Very Large Array (VLA), Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), Arecibo; and an optical telescope (Iowa Robotic Observatory) located in Arizona
  • Students develop programming skills using Python and CASA (radio astronomical imaging)
  • Students also interact with peer group members and other astronomy faculty
Dylan Pare

Astrononomy, Galactic center

Steven R. Spangler

Radio astronomy; plasma astrophysics; space plasma physics.

  • Solar corona, solar wind, interstellar medium
  • Students use the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope
  • Students also encouraged to carry out instrumentation-development projects with the 4.5 meter instructional radio telescope on roof of Van Allen Hall
  • Students develop skills in numerical methods, writing code in Python and other languages
Joshua Steffen