Astronomy is often called the oldest science -- in many ways, it is also one of the newest! Our business is the physical study of stars and stellar systems in the observable universe, what might more properly be called astrophysics. Because astronomers really can't experiment on stars, experimentalists are calledobservers instead. They supply the observational details of positions, fluxes, and spectra to theoreticians, who model the evolution and development of objects ranging from comets to stars to entire galaxies. Scientists who study the surfaces of planets are more typically found in geology programs, while scientists who specialize in the study of upper atmospheres and magnetospheres of planets, and the regions between the planets, are generally housed in space physics groups.
With the retirement of Professors Barbara Anthony-Twarog and Steven Hawley in Spring 2018 and the addition of one new faculty in Fall 2018, the University of Kansas Astronomy Group includes three full-time faculty astronomers, Assistant Professor Allison Kirkpatrick, Professor Greg Rudnick, and Professor Bruce Twarog, as well as two adjunct faculty (Ryan Maderak, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Benedictine College, Atchison and Karen Camarda, Associate Professor in the Physics Department at Washburn University in Topeka). The ongoing research at KU deals with the observation and interpretation of single stars and clusters, both within the Milky Way and in nearby galaxies, and the structure and evolution of galaxies at large redshift, i.e., in the distant past. Among the researchers, use is made of the facilities of the Hubble Space Telescope , Kitt Peak National Observatory, Cerro Tololo InterAmerican Observatory, and the Gemini telescopes in Chile and on Mauna Kea, federally funded observatories operated in the northern and southern hemispheres of the Americas, Steward Observatory in Arizona and the WIYN 3.5m and WIYN 0.9m telescopes at KPNO. Our studies are designed to probe the detailed evolution of single stars and the origin and evolution of star clusters through CCD photometric analysis using intermediate-band filters, and the origin and evolution of the Milky Way from study of the oldest field star populations and clusters, and the evolution of distant galaxies using a mixture of both photometric imaging and spectroscopy. Ongoing observational research includes 15% of the available telescope time using the Phillips Claud 1.25m telescope and 7.5% of the 1.0m telescope at Mt. Laguna Observatory, in collaboration with San Diego State University. The 50-inch Claud telescope is equipped with a state-of-the-art CCD imager and dual-filter wheel, all of which can be operated remotely from Lawrence. For a recent news article on the Claud Telescope from the vantage point of San Diego State, click on this link
In addition to the astronomy group at KU, there are a number of active departmental research groups in related areas of astrophysics. Professor Hume Feldman, Dept. Chair and Professor Sergei Shandarin comprise the Cosmology group, which attempts to understand the large-scale structure of the Universe through computer modelling and comparisons between simulations and the results from ongoing extragalactic surveys, while Professor Adrian Melott, formerly of the Cosmology group, is now devoted to full-time investigations in Astrobiology. Professor Tom Cravens uses NASA support and collaborations to study the plasma physics of the solar system as represented by a mixture of cometary and planetary objects. A key addition to the astrophysics group in the area of plasma astrophysics is Dr. Misha Medvedev, who joined the department as an assistant professor in Fall 2002 and was promoted to full professor in 2012. On the experimental side, astroparticle physics has also been the focus of Professor Dave Besson. Dr. Besson is part of a multinational research effort at the South Pole to build and operate the Askaryan Radio Array, a large-scale radio-detection instrument that will identify radio waves cast off from high-energy neutrinos far underneath the Antarctic ice shelf.