CRA Highlights: A Look Back At 2020

What a year 2020 has been! 

It was a year of challenges and transitions that impacted each of our lives in important ways.

We managed a pandemic, work from our homes, virtual teaching and learning, too many BlueJeans meetings, a bit of anxiety, and physically distant goodbyes to old friends who moved to new homes. 

But we also welcomed new students, postdocs and staff, and we shared hope and successes.  We asked each faculty to share one 2020 highlight from their groups, and there is lots to be proud of in the CRA:


David Ballantyne published a paper in Nature Astronomy describing the interaction of a Type 1 X-ray Burst with a thin accretion disk. Graduate student Kunyang Li published two first author papers, in which she studied the pairing probability of massive black holes in merger galaxies, in collaboration with Ballantyne and Bogdanovic. Graduate student Julia Speicher published her first paper on Compton cooling of accretion disk coronae. Undergraduate student Xin Xiang co-authored a paper on models of warm coronae in AGN accretion disks.


Tamara Bodganovic’s group studied cold gas filaments forming around supermassive black holes in galaxy clusters and results from Yu Qiu’s simulation were published in and featured on the cover of Nature Astronomy. Her group also put constraints on the merger timescale of sub-parsec supermassive black hole binary candidates using Pulsar Timing Arrays.


Laura Cadonati’s group used gravitational wave data to populate the stellar graveyard with tens of merging black holes, contributing to GWTC-2 and several special-event LIGO papers. Graduate student Sudarshan Ghonge and undergraduate Richard Udall published first author papers.


Gongjie Li’s group is making strides in the studies of exoplanets, setting Theoretical constraints on exoplanets suspected of harboring moons.  Graduate students Nathan Moore and Hareesh Bhaskar published their first papers Inclination Excitation of Solar System Debris Disk Due to Stellar Flybys and Mildly-Hierarchical triple dynamics and applications to the outer solar system.


Nepomuk Otte’s group has studied very-high energy gamma ray pulsar wind tails with VERITAS and is in the final stretch of completing the Cherenkov telescope camera for a long-duration balloon flight around the South Pole in 2023 to search for ultrahigh-energy neutrinos.


Jim Sowell extended the reach of the GT Observatory Public Nights and celestial events to  online streaming.  The live Jupiter-Saturn conjunction was viewed by ~3000 people from around the world.


Ignacio Taboada’s group has studied a wide variety of potential high-energy neutrino sources, including X-ray binaries, choked GRBs, Seyfert galaxies and Blazars. PhD student Chun Fai Tung worked at South Pole (January 2020), performing necessary maintenance on the IceCube neutrino observatory.


John Wise and his collaborators received a NASA TCAN (Theoretical and Computational Astrophysics Networks) grant that supports work on the circumgalactic medium and its importance during galaxy formation.  Danielle Skinner was awarded the NASA FINESST Fellowship, fully funding her PhD research for the next three years, and Gen Chiaki will become an assistant professor at Tohoku University next year.


For the next year, we look forward to meeting in person our new members, to gathering around the whiteboard and seeing all of you at seminars in Boggs and Cosmic Coffees in Howey, to planning outreach events and socializing, to new initiatives, face-to-face interactions and more exciting science.

We wish you a fulfilling 2021, and stay safe!