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New NASA Center is Stellar Leap for UMBC Astrophysics

Photo Caption: CRESST, a new NASA center at UMBC, will expand astrophysics research and education on black holes and other high-energy phenomena of the universe.

The team of UMBC, the University of Maryland, College Park and the Universities Space Research Association has been selected by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center to establish and operate the Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science and Technology (CRESST).

CRESST will bring together NASA Goddard researchers and scientists from the Maryland campuses and USRA to build upon the many capabilities and strengths in space science of the participating organizations. CRESST research will initially focus on the study of neutron stars, black holes, and extremely hot gas throughout the universe. The Center also will work to increase the involvement of minority and women scientists in space science research and to facilitate university student participation in such research.

The Center will be supported through a five-year cooperative agreement from NASA with funding anticipated to be $7.5 million per year. A five-year extension is possible. The university partnership group will operate and provide funding for a management/scientist support office.

"This is a great day for Maryland,” said Maryland Senator Barbara A. Mikulski. “The creation of CRESST is the kind of collaboration between our universities and government laboratories that fosters discovery, innovation, creates new technologies, new ideas and helps Maryland remain a world class center for space science and exploration. As the Senator that funds NASA and our other great federal science agencies, I applaud the creation of this institute and hope to expand cooperation among our universities and government laboratories to keep Maryland competitive."

"This is a fitting reward for UMBC's investment in astrophysics, and a great opportunity to expand the research and educational activities performed here,” said Ian George, director of the Joint Center for Astrophysics and associate professor of physics at UMBC. “This award further bolsters UMBC's position in only its 40th year as one of the leading research universities in the mid-Atlantic region,” George said.

In support of NASA strategic science mission objectives, CRESST will carry out observational, experimental, and theoretical research in three general areas:

-- The Sun and Solar System, stars, galaxies, and the universe at large;

-- The informational and computational sciences related to the unique needs of data systems required to interpret space science data;

-- The development of technology required to achieve these scientific challenges.

CRESST is the latest addition to UMBC’s relationship with NASA. UMBC is ranked 13th nationally among all universities in research funding received from NASA. UMBC is already home to several other multimillion-dollar NASA research centers in collaboration with the Goddard Space Flight Center, including the Goddard Earth Sciences and Technology (GEST) Center, the Joint Center for Earth Systems and Technology (JCET), the Center for the Advanced Study of Photonics Research (CASPR) and the JCA.

According to George, NASA partnerships like CRESST will help bring more internationally-recognized space scientists to UMBC. “UMBC scientists are making major contributions to currently flying NASA high-energy astrophysics missions like the International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL), and the forthcoming Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) mission, scheduled to launch in August 2007,” George said.

Photo Caption: CRESST will help UMBC attract more world-class faculty like Joint Center for Astrophysics researchers Jane Turner (left) and Ian George.

George noted that UMBC scientists were also involved in the NASA Swift and Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) missions. “What’s really exciting is the impact CRESST will have on students, “said George. “UMBC has recently started both undergraduate and graduate-level astrophysics courses, so CRESST will help us to expand astrophysics education and research.”

Posted: October 6, 2006, 12:00 PM