High-precision atomic astrophysics: From black holes to nanotechnology

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Project lead:
Anil Pradhan, Ph.D. & Sultana Nahar, Ph.D., The Ohio State University

Research title:
Computational Atomic Astrophysics

Funding sources:
National Science Foundation, NASA, Department of Energy, Ohio Supercomputer Center, The Ohio State University

The most precise energy calculations ever made of certain elements are helping astronomers with the difficult task of identifying black holes. Black holes are invisible, but a plasma sea of super-hot atoms spiraling into black holes betrays their existence. Astronomers study the plasma to collect telltale radiation readings, from the visible to the X-ray, using satellites and large telescopes, such as the Large Binocular Telescope.

Led by Ohio State University researchers Anil Pradhan, Ph.D., and Sultana Nahar, Ph.D., an international team taps the resources of the Ohio Supercomputer Center to perform high-accuracy energy calculations to compare with the radiation readings. The most precise large-scale calculations for iron were done by Nahar, who thus is known among astronomers as the "Iron Lady."

Astrophysicists also use the supercomputers to virtually create the conditions found inside a star and compare their results with laboratory measurements made from nuclear fusion devices. OSC hosts the team's unique on-line interactive databases (OPSERVER and NORAD) that are accessed by astronomers and physicists worldwide. Interdisciplinary research has yielded a novel scientific application: cancer research using nanotechnology. X-ray spectroscopy may enable in vivo therapy and diagnostics, referred to as "theranostics," using heavy-element nanoparticles embedded in malignant tumors.

For more information, see: www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~pradhan/