NSF Grant to Support the Undergraduate ALFALFA Team

Award Date: August 2012


Associate Professor of Physics Rebecca Koopmann has secured a $437,883 grant from the National Science Foundation to  support the three-year Undergraduate ALFALFA Team (UAT) project.  Koopman leads UAT, a consortium of 19 undergraduate-focused institutions, to continue and extend its multi-faceted program to promote undergraduate research within the ALFALFA (Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA, where ALFA refers to the Arecibo L-band Feed Array detector).  The UAT will build on the infrastructure and enhanced faculty skill set developed during the previous grant period (NSF ID: 0724918), which successfully involved 126 undergraduates and 21 faculty mentors (~ 50% women) to offer undergraduates and faculty at its diverse set of institutions access to cutting-edge collaborative research projects within a major legacy survey.


Highlights of the UAT project include:

  1. The Annual UAT Workshop at Arecibo Observatory provides the framework, communicating ALFALFA and HI science, observing, and data analysis techniques to undergraduate researchers via lectures, observing sessions, and group work led by National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC) staff, team faculty, graduate and advanced undergraduate students.
  2. Observing at Arecibo provides students and faculty with hands-on experience at a world-class national facility.
  3. Computer infrastructure ensures the success of researchers at smaller schools.
  4. Intellectually engaging research projects are supported via a summer research program and academic year advising by faculty mentors.
  5. Collaborative research projects in coordination with the ALFALFA PIs provide students and faculty with transformative research experiences while demonstrating the modern collaborative model of scientific interactions.

Intellectual Merit

The ALFALFA project addresses fundamental questions about the matter content of the Universe and the legacy nature ensures that the data will be used to explore a variety of scientific questions. In collaboration with ALFALFA PIs, the UAT is set up to educate and train students and faculty as they investigate ALFALFA scientific questions. The UAT science program will be focused in two areas:

  1. The continued engagement of the UAT in the Arecibo observing program associated with the ALFALFA legacy survey and followup investigations of potentially the most exciting ‘dark’ and low-mass ALFALFA sources, and
  2. A collaborative project to quantify the impact of environment on the star formation properties of galaxies in groups. Through these projects students and faculty mentors participate directly and collaboratively in observations at a major national observatory and analyze survey data to contribute to the science goals of the project.

Broader Impacts

The proposed program encompasses the Broader Impacts criteria stated by the NSF. The research program will advance discovery while promoting learning by involving faculty, undergraduate and graduate students from a diverse set of U.S. institutions in research. The annual workshop emphasizes team training and interaction with faculty mentors, peers at other institutions, NAIC staff, and ALFALFA PIs. Students and faculty participate in the Team’s vibrant research program and present their results at national meetings. Graduate and advanced undergraduate students work to train new student and faculty collaborators, contributing to their development as scholars and teachers. The infrastructure for research and education is enhanced by the collaboration between the NAIC and the diverse set of schools, as well as the provision of research computers for student use. Eleven of the nineteen faculty leads are women and two institutions are minority-serving, ensuring that a high fraction of women and underrepresented groups will participate. Broader dissemination to enhance scientific understanding is achieved by development of publicly available curricular and outreach materials. Educational materials designed to introduce students to the project are publically available on the UAT and ALFALFA web pages. Faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students incorporate ALFALFA science in public talks, school visits, K-12 teacher workshops, and planetarium programs. Faculty invite students and members of the public to participate in remote Arecibo observing sessions, extending access to a national observatory to a wider audience on campus and in the public.