SU alumnus and family endow physics professorship, graduate fellowship
SU alumnus and family endow physics professorship, graduate fellowshipFebruary 07, 2008Judy Holmesjlholmes@syr.edu
Martin A. Pomerantz ’37 discovered his passion for physics at Syracuse University. His pioneering spirit and vision led to the establishment of a world-class observatory at the South Pole, which was named in his honor in 1995. Now his spirit, vision and generosity will help further the development of a new era of astronomical research at SU.
A combined $1.5 million in gifts to The College of Arts and Sciences from Pomerantz and his family will support an endowed professorship and a graduate fellowship in the Department of Physics. The named professorship — the Martin A. Pomerantz Professorship in Physics — was recently awarded to Peter Saulson. The Molly B. Pomerantz Graduate Fellowship will support physics graduate students in their research.
“Martin Pomerantz is one of the foremost scholars in physics,” says A&S Dean Cathryn Newton. “He recognized the importance of the Antarctic as a platform for studies in astronomy and astrophysics. His gift to The College of Arts and Sciences will stand over time for excellence in physics research and is a testament to the vision and farsightedness of the Pomerantz family.”
Pomerantz, professor emeritus of the Bartol Research Institute at the University of Delaware and a 2007 recipient of an honorary degree from SU, traveled the world conducting experiments designed to study the nature of cosmic rays (atomic and subatomic particles that bombard the Earth at almost the speed of light). His research led him to the South Pole, where, in 1978, he became the first scientist to set up a telescope and observe the sun for 120 continuous hours from a single point on Earth.
His images rocked the science community and ultimately led to the establishment of a permanent South Pole observatory.
Pomerantz made 27 trips to the South Pole — the last in 1994 at the age of 78 to oversee his final experiment. It was during his last trip that officials from the National Science Foundation and the Office of Polar Programs convened an outdoor ceremony to dedicate the new observatory in his honor. The temperature that day was a mere -40C.
Pomerantz says he found the spirit for cutting-edge research at Syracuse University is similar to that which permeated the Bartol Research Institute. “Peter Saulson’s group is so reminiscent of the way we did things at Bartol,” he says. “It’s a reincarnation of the way in which I think physics ought to be done.”
Saulson and Alumni Professor of Physics Mark Trodden are among a growing group of researchers at SU involved in a new departmental initiative in multi-messenger cosmology (MMC). It’s an effort to understand the origin and structure of the universe by observing it through as many “messengers” as possible, including electromagnetic waves (light, radio waves and their cousins), cosmic rays and gravitational waves (waves produced by moving mass, generated from violent events in the universe, which travel at the speed of light).
The initiative brings together researchers in the fields of cosmology, astrophysics and particle physics, who study these messenger particles from different perspectives. For example, physicists involved in SU’s MMC initiative are participating in major national and international experiments to detect gravitational waves and dark matter, and to identify and study black holes, as well as other efforts to understand the nature of the universe’s past, present and future by developing theoretical models and testing those models through observation and experimentation.
“We are thrilled with the endowment of a distinguished professorship and a named doctoral fellowship,” says Cristina Marchetti, chair of the physics department. “It is especially fitting that this gift comes from the family of a distinguished scientist and astronomer at a time when the department is building in cosmology and gravitational wave research. With the support of the University administration, we embarked on expanding in this field. This gift is in perfect synergy with this initiative.”
Members of the physics department who are involved in the new initiative include:
- Saulson, a longtime researcher in gravitational wave detection and former spokesperson for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration;
- theorists Cristian Armendariz-Picon and Alumni Professor of Physics Mark Trodden, who study the origin, structure and evolution of the universe;
- Duncan Brown, who will be testing Einstein’s theory of relativity against data collected at the LIGO observatories in Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La.; and
- Richard Schnee, who is part of the national Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) experiment, which is building a detector to measure the amount of dark matter in the universe.
“The MMC research cluster is a perfect example of Scholarship in Action,” says Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric Spina. “The initiative builds on current faculty strength, connects to broad communities of experts at other universities and international facilities, addresses deeply important questions, and exemplifies the kind of research activity we must support. The Chancellor, Vice President Ben Ware and I will continue to work with The College of Arts and Sciences and the physics department to build deep faculty strength in this area.”
The physics department expects to add another cosmology theorist and two experimentalists in the fields of gravity and cosmology research to the new MMC group over the next two years.
“It’s as exciting to be a physicist now as it was in 1937,” Saulson says. “We are so proud of the success of Martin A. Pomerantz, both as a scientist and as a human being. His gift and our new initiative in multi-messenger cosmology will enable SU to be on the frontier of physics for years to come.”
In addition to his honorary degree from SU, Pomerantz holds honorary degrees from the University of Delaware, the University of Uppsala and Swarthmore College. He is the recipient of the National Science Foundation Distinguished Public Servant Award (1987), the NASA Distinguished Science Achievement Award (1990) and the Syracuse University Centennial Medal (1973).