Wayne State professor receives prestigious NSF Early Career award; research to impact metro Detroit schools' astronomy programs

March 18, 2014

DETROIT -- A Wayne State University researcher has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, the agency's most prestigious award for up-and-coming researchers in science and engineering.

The five-year, $550,000 grant was awarded to Ed Cackett, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics & astronomy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, for the project "Reflection and reverberation in neutron star low-mass X-ray binaries."  

According to Cackett, neutron stars are extreme stars -- about the mass of the sun, but only the size of a city -- containing ultra-dense material, many times the density of an atomic nucleus. "These stars are so dense that the velocity needed to escape a neutron star's gravity is about 30 percent of the speed of light," said Cackett.

Cackett studies these stars in binary systems where a sun-like star orbits a neutron star. He will apply cutting-edge techniques to understand how the strong gravity around these objects pulls material from the companion star toward it -- a process known as accretion.

This NSF award also will allow Cackett to develop a program to provide access to solar telescopes to metro Detroit-area schools to add a hands-on daytime observing aspect to their science curricula. In addition, he will provide curricular materials and conduct workshops for high school teachers for this program, as well as review all astronomy topics in the high school science standards.

Cackett received his Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews (UK) and held postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Michigan and University of Cambridge (UK) before joining the Wayne State University faculty in January 2012.

Wayne State University is one of the nation's pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit