International Scientific Workshop Hosted at UR

August 11, 2017

In July, the University of Richmond welcomed prominent astrophysicists from around the world to a first-of-a-kind conference dedicated to exploring a mysterious astrophysical phenomenon known as the radio synchrotron background (RSB). Hosted by physics professor Jack Singal and the UR physics department, the meeting brought scientists from institutions such as NASA and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and from as far away as Italy, Germany, and Vancouver, to campus.

The RSB is an electromagnetic buzz that comes to us from all directions on the sky whose origin is difficult to explain in light of what is currently known about our galaxy and other galaxies. The scientific workshop, which was sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation, brought together many of the people who have investigated the topic for three days of presentations and brainstorming. UR was a natural venue for the first international meeting dedicated to the RSB because it is one of Singal’s research interests. 

During the meeting, participants achieved a rough consensus on what investigations to prioritize next in order to get closer to understanding the RSB. As summarized by one participant in a panel discussion, there are only three possibilities regarding the RSB: 

  • The measurements that have discovered it are in error somehow,
  • It originates from our galaxy which would make our galaxy very strange when compared to other galaxies that we know of, or
  • It originates from farther out in the universe from some as of now completely unknown process, which would make it the most interesting background signal in all of astronomy.

The meeting was opened with a welcome from School of Arts and Sciences Dean Patrice Rankine and a summary introduction by NASA’s Alan Kogut. In the evenings, many of the attendees explored downtown Richmond. In a brief break from the main topic, two UR physics undergraduates, Jibran Haider and Evan Jones, presented talks about their current research in astrophysics. 

The meeting ended on a humorous note with the closing session chairperson thanking Singal for his organization of the conference and then noting that ‘When the meeting started I was confused, and now I’m still confused but at a higher level.’ 

To learn more about the conference and see the archive of presentations given, visit their website.