Dr. Dennis Bodewits (Associate Professor) Dennis Bodewits is an associate professor of Physics at Auburn University. Born in Hoogezand-Sappemeer, the Netherlands, I studied experimental physics and astronomy at the University of Groningen. I got my Ph.D. after writing a dissertation on charge exchange emission from solar wind ions interacting with cometary atmospheres at the Center for Advanced Radiation Technology (KVI-CART) at the University of Groningen. Being awarded a NASA Postdoctoral Program fellowship I moved to Washington DC and started observing comets and asteroids with the Swift space telescope at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Between 2010 and 2018 I was a member of the Small Body Group at the University of Maryland, where I got involved in the comet fly-bys of the Deep Impact and Stardust-NEXT missions, and in the Rosetta mission that orbited comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for over two years. I joined the Physics Department at Auburn University in 2018. The IAU honored me by assigning asteroid 10033 the formal name 'Bodewits' in 2017. Fun fact: I am one out of a dozen people who ever flew a man-powered helicopter (the University of Maryland’s Gamera II).
Dr. Steve Bromley (Postdoctoral Scientist)
In 2015 I moved to Clemson in South Carolina, intending to become a high-energy astronomer. I instead found myself developing an interest in the atomic physics underpinning astronomy. In my graduate work, I worked in the Marler Group at Clemson University developing methods and apparatus’ for studying charge exchange (CX) with highly charged ions (HCIs). This experimental work piqued my interest as I was involved in every step of the process from experimental conception to design, testing, and ultimate use to measure atomic properties. In the latter half of my PhD work, I became involved with a new collaboration to study emission spectra of heavy elements relevant to neutron star merger ejecta. This effort will continue in my postdoctoral work as we extend our experiments and analysis to other heavy elements.
As a postdoc, my research goals are to understand the role of atomic collisions in exotic environments, including both neutron star merger ejecta and the interface between the solar wind and cometary nuclei. For the latter, I will be studying electron-molecule collisions to extract cross sections, line ratios, and other diagnostics for understanding the thin plasmas around comets. Additionally, I will be working alongside collaborators at Clemson University to bring a Cold Target Ion Momentum Spectroscopy (COLTRIMS) on-line at the Clemson University Electron Beam Ion Trap (CUEBIT). This work will produce nl-resolved CX cross sections for many HCIs present in the solar wind. It is expected that these measurements will resolve standing issues within the literature, including uncertainties in diagnostic line ratios and the proper energy regimes of various CX emission models.
In my spare time, I frequent mountain bike trails as often as the weather permits, and won’t hesitate to photograph a great view!
Dr. Kumar Venkataramani (Postdoctoral Scientist)
I am a post-doctoral scientist in the physics department, Auburn University. I was born and brought up in the city of Mumbai, India. I have always been a night-sky enthusiast right from schooling days in Mumbai. I completed my PhD in physics from Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar. All of my research work was carried out at Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, India. My PhD thesis work was to study the gas and dust abundances in various comets as a function of their distance from Sun. This was done by monitoring and measuring the amount of emissions from various molecular and ionic species seen in the optical spectrum of the comets. My research work included observing comets and asteroids using ground based telescopes.
As a post doctoral researcher, I am involved in the project to study comet 9P/Tempel 1. The images of this comet were aquired using the comet specific narrow band filters in the medium resolution instrument of the Deep Impact Spacecraft. I will also be involved in projects to study some of the other comets in the UV region of their spectra, where we see a lot more emissions from different molecules in the coma.
Apart from research, I really like to travel and explore new places. Its pretty exciting to learn about different cultures and to understand the way in which people think about various aspects of life. I am also a nature admirer and I love animals (especially cats).
Thomas Deskins (Graduate Student)
My name is Thomas Deskins and I am a Ph.D. student in the department of physics at Auburn University. Born and raised in Baltimore in the state of Maryland, I earned a bachelor’s degree (2017) and a master’s degree (2018) in chemical and biomolecular engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park.
My previous research has been on modeling atmospheric emissions of volatile chemicals and performing numerical simulations of microfluidic transport processes. After earning my master’s degree, I moved to Beijing to teach at an international boarding school. After a year, I returned to the United States to begin graduate studies in physics at Auburn University. I joined Dr. Dennis Bodewits’ research group in April 2020. I am currently using data from the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton, an X-ray space observatory, to investigate the X-ray emissions of comets.
Aside from research and other scholarly things, I enjoy playing guitar, woodworking, hiking, and gardening.
Shawn Oset (Graduate Student)
I am a phD student here at Auburn University working in astrophysics. After earning degrees from the University of South Alabama in Physics and Mathematics, I developed a heavy interest in computation and its interaction with physics.
A love of science fiction and all things space-related brought me to my current field studying cometary phenomena after a short time in theoretical condensed matter physics, studying the properties of half-metals and related magnetic materials for applications in spintronics.
In my free time I enjoy cooking, trying new foods, learning as many languages as I can, programming, and reading. I like animals, especially horses and dogs, and being outside in general.
Zexi Xing (Visiting Graduate Student)
Zexi Xing is a Ph.D. student in the department of physics at the University of Hong Kong. I have a general interest in physics, especially astrophysics, and currently focus on Ultraviolet and X-ray observations of comets and asteroids. Abundance, activities and history of the small bodies are intriguing for me. The Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory is my great friend. In 2018 I got my B.Sc. in astronomy from Nanjing University, where many plane trees and cats live pretty happily. In addition to research, I am a great fan of nature and street photography, I love running outdoors with music, I love taking planes, and I really love dogs!
Johannes Allen (Physics/Aerospace Eng.), HST observations of the aftermath of an outburst of 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1
Lauren Lyons (Software Eng.), Modeling of the distribution of fragment species in cometary atmospheres