BU Science Productivity on the LDT

The Lowell Discovery Telescope (LDT, nee “Discovery Channel Telescope”) has been in operation since 2013, just two years after BU joined with Lowell as the only permanent partner in the LDT in 2011. Our initial 10-year “Project” with Lowell provided, on an installment basis, $7M of capital of the $53M LDT total and an additional $3M of operations funding to support the 40 nights per year of BU time on the LDT. Since 2021, BU access to its 40 nights per year is via a 5-year agreement with Lowell Observatory.

In almost 10 years of operation, BU faculty, research scientists, postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduate students have generated 61 publications (43 in peer-reviewed journals and another 18 in conference proceedings and meetings). These have garnered 890 citations and 23,576 on-line reads of the articles and both indices are strongly increasing with time, as the figures above and below indicate.

And, two of our faculty members, hired to scientifically exploit the power that the LDT brings to BU, Catherine Espaillat and Philip Muirhead, strongly contribute to the publications and visibility of the BU science accomplished on the LDT, as indicated in the “author network” plot below and “paper network” plot below that.

Above: “Author Network” plot showing relationships among BU authors on papers based on LDT data. The “sub” authors are virtually all BU graduate students. In addition to the Muirhead (purple) and Espaillat (red) groups, research groups led by Elizabeth Blanton (green), JJ Hermes (light blue), and Alan Marscher (dark blue) fill out many of the other colors. Paul Dalba (yellow) finished his PhD under the mentorship of Muirhead.

Above: “Paper Network” plot showing the main scientific themes appearing the papers collected for the Author Network plot. BU research on the LDT is distributed among study of the smallest stars (in purple), White Dwarf stars (in red), the disks about newly formed stars – places where new planets are forming (in yellow), blazars and their jets (in green), distant galaxy clusters (in light blue), and planetary studies (in dark blue). (note that these colors do not match the author colors in the plot above this one)

BU research on the LDT is strong, growing, impactful, and forward-looking. Professors Espaillat and Muirhead have been recently tenured and promoted, which bodes very well for great science, visibility, impact, and federal funding to flow from a continued operations support for our 40 nights per year on the LDT. Professors Marscher, Blanton, and Brainerd and their students are also strong LDT users. Recently appointed Research Assistant Professors Carl Schmidt and Luke Moore are growing their LDT and PTO use and instrumentation interests.

Finally, BU time on the LDT essentially pays for itself in the form of IDC generated on federal research grants that benefit from guaranteed access to the dark Arizona skies that the LDT and PTO provide. These BU-owned and BU-partnered facilities are vital components of the bricks-and-mortar of the Astronomy enterprise at Boston University. Without them, the current high levels of productivity, impact, and funding are all at significant risk.

Above: The 4.3m (170-inch) Lowell Discovery Telescope, located at Happy Jack, Arizona, has been in operation since 2013. BU scientists enjoy guaranteed access to 40 nights per year on this enormous telescope.

Above: Boston University undergraduate students majoring in Astronomy on a field trip to the LDT as part of the Spring 2012 majors capstone course AS441 (“Observational Astronomy”). In addition to using the LDT for cutting-edge astronomical science, it also serves as a key teaching tool for our undergraduate majors program, our graduate program, and our non-majors introductory “BU Hub” courses.