A University of Massachusetts Faculty Profile Elliott Horch illuminates our galaxy's origins

All things being relative, some of the stars above us are really old?maybe 13 billion years old versus the one million (or less) years clocked by newer stars

March 3, 2003 

A University of Massachusetts Faculty Profile Elliott Horch illuminates our galaxy's origins 

All things being relative, some of the stars above us are really old—maybe 13 billion years old versus the one million (or less) years clocked by newer stars. Astronomers don't know a lot about these old stars, and this intrigues Elliott Horch, assistant professor of physics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He is a member of the national team of astronomers using images of these stars photographed by the Hubble space telescope and by telescopes at major observatories on Earth to decode the origin of our galaxy, the Milky Way. 

Since there are as many as 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, he won't run out of study subjects any time soon. 

Horch has just begun his second semester in the Department of Physics, but he has worked on this research since his graduate studies at Stanford, continued it during a post-doc at Yale, and took it further at his previous post at the Rochester Institute of Technology. 

Horch pursues three research tracks—speckle imaging, the Hubble space telescope, and improvements to the technology used by astronomers. 

Speckle imaging is a technique that makes stars viewed from land telescopes more visible. It requires taking many short exposures which "freeze" out the distortion effects of the Earth's atmosphere. 

The RIT-Yale Tip-tilt Speckle Imager was developed in Horch's RIT lab and makes it possible for any observatory with a typical CCD camera such as the one at UMD to take advantage of diffraction-limited imaging with speckle interferometry. 

Horch is also "building" a research lab at UMass Dartmouth, in which he primarily focuses on decoding the images taken from the Hubble. His physics graduate student, Meridith McKnight, is working with him on this project, and he just hired two undergraduates as well. 

His longer term research goal will entail more specialized laboratory space at the Advanced Technology & Manufacturing Center. In what could be seen as an astronomical coincidence, Horch's dissertation advisor at Stanford, Dr. J. Gethyn Timothy, is now an adjunct professor at UMD's physics department and a venture technology partner in the lab. Horch is interested in furthering the work he did at RIT by building a better camera to shoot the speckle enhanced images that are the mainstay of his research. 

Horch is also a teacher, a facet of his professional life he enjoys. To the casual observer, it would appear that RIT and UMD provide different classroom experiences, but Horch says the substantive differences between RIT and UMD are few. Both are regional universities of about the same size, with good academic reputations and a "best value" rating from U.S.News & World Report. However, RIT is private and expensive, facts that had made him wonder before he arrived whether these variables would influence student expectations. 

Therefore, he was delighted to find that his UMD students in Intro to Physics for Engineers and Intro to Astronomy are active learners who take responsibility for their education. "UMD students are willing to work for understanding. They make me a better teacher. It's neat," he says. 

Horch has also felt warmly welcomed by his colleagues in physics, and it is reciprocated. 

Says Prof. Alan Hirshfeld: "With Professor Horch on board, students in the physics department will not only be able to study the cosmos with our campus telescope, but with large telescopes at other observatories—and even the Hubble Space Telescope! This will enrich the educational experience of our students in a profound way. Astronomy is one of the most exciting areas of scientific research today and Professor Horch is among the field's rising stars." 

To learn more about Elliott Horch and his work, log onto http://www.umassd.edu/1 Academic/CArtsandSciences/physics/people/people.html 

This article was written by Maeve Hickok for the Office of News & Public Information. 


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