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The Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA) at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to collaborate with a group of 11 institutions in the United States to create and operate a Physics Frontier Center (PFC).

The Physics Frontier Center will operate under the auspices of the grant awardee,the NorthAmerican Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) with the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee as the primary institution. Of the total $14.5 million awarded to the PFC, over $1 million in research funding will come to the Rio Grande Valley over the next five years to support the NANOGrav-related research efforts ongoing at CARA.

“Physics Frontier Center grants are extremely competitive,” said Dr. Fredrick Jenet, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA), co-founder of NANOGrav and co-Principal investigator of this award. “This award is one more example of the high quality of researchers we have in the university’s physics department. We prove once again that we can successfully compete for major research funding on a national scale.”

CARA, the Center forAdvanced Radio Astronomy, was created three years ago to develop radio frequency based techniques for space exploration as well as for creating innovative programs to attract and train the next generation of scientists and engineers with a strong background in modern radio frequency technology. CARA was designated as the first center of excellence for the new UTRGV.

“This award will give our students more opportunities to be a part of this major international effort and expose them to some of the world’s experts in astrophysics,” said Dr. Joseph Romano, Associate Professor of physics and senior research scientist on the PFC.

Students at CARA’s Arecibo Remote Command Center (ARCC) search the galaxy for exotic stars known as radio pulsars. Many of their newly discovered objects are being used by the NANOGrav collaboration in its efforts to detect a phenomenon known as gravitational waves.

“I am working hard and putting in extra time hunting for pulsars because I really hope that I can discover several of these exotic stars that will become part of the NANOGrav effort,” said Miguel Rodriguez, a freshman in the ARCC program.

With increased funding through the grant, the ARCC program, created by Jenet, will be expanded to, and incorporated by, other universities, enhancing the network of professors, researchers and peers available to students in CARA programs.

“One of the major strengths of the ARCC program is that undergraduate and high school students get to participate in world-class research and work with top researchers at all levels,” said Dr. Volker Quetschke, Assistant Professor and Chair of the ARCC executive committee.

The talented pipeline of students created by ARCC and other CARA programs paved the way for the creation of the CARA-SpaceX collaboration known as STARGATE.

Andy Miller, a Saint Joseph’s Academy physics and astronomy teacher who works closely with CARA programs, said the ARCC mainstream research has become an “alluring incentive” to keep some of the Rio Grande Valley’s brightest high school students focused in STEM areas.

“The NANOGrav effort is on track to make a real impact in the field,” said Dr. Richard Price, Professor of Physics andAstronomy and one of the world’s experts in the field of general relativity and a member of the NANOGrav advisory board.

Established in 2007, NANOGrav is an international collaboration of researchers building a galactic-scale gravitational wave observatory using exotic stars known as radio pulsars to test the predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Jenet’s research laid the ground work for the creation of NANOGrav.

“This award will enable us to take great strides forward in the global effort to detect and study gravitational waves, one of the most important predictions of Einstein’s theory,” said Dr. Teviet Creighton, Assistant Professor and Chair of the astrophysics working group at CARA.

About The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 in a historic move that will combine the resources and assets of UT Brownsville, UT Pan American, the Regional Academic Health Center and for the first time, make it possible for residents of the Rio Grande Valley to benefit from the Permanent University Fund, a public endowment contributing support to eligible institutions of The University of Texas System and the Texas A&M University System.

UTRGV will also be home to a School of Medicine and will transform Texas and the nation by becoming a leader in student success, teaching, research and healthcare. UTRGV will enroll its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine will open in 2016.

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