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Department of Physics and Astronomy Announces $5 Million Grant

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – OCTOBER 4, 2012 – Moises Castillo of Los Fresnos knows how important it is to have a research opportunity.

Moises Castillo
Moises Castillo, a first-year graduate student in physics from Los Fresnos, talks about student research at a press conference announcing a $5 million National Science Foundation – CREST grant awarded to The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.

Castillo, 21, a first-year graduate student in physics at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, is grateful for grant money to help him continue research measuring the dilution factor of steel wires. He began the work while earning a bachelor’s degree in physics at the university which he completed this summer and will formally receive at Winter Commencement in December. 

“All the instruments for the project I had to make myself,” said Castillo, a member of the first graduating class of the university’s Mathematics and Science Academy. “It was all funded through the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy.” 

The Department of Physics and Astronomy celebrated the awarding of a $5 million Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology grant from the National Science Foundation at a press conference on Thursday, Oct. 4 at the Education and Business Complex’s Salon Cassia. The grant is a continuation of funding from November to October 2017 for the department’s Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy. 

The grant will enable faculty members and students to work with multi-messenger astronomy using optical and radio astronomy to detect gravitational waves. The research will be in three components: astrophysics, data analysis and detector instrumentation. The grant will also help establish a general education program in astronomy and to expand physics education at the undergraduate level. 

Dr. Mario Diaz
Dr. Mario Diaz, Professor of Physics and Director of the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy, speaks at the $5 million National Science Foundation – CREST grant at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.

Knowing how to work with science is critical now because of the move in some fields to use automation requiring more people to understand mathematics, theories, computer science and robotics. 

“The future of all high tech industries need a more qualified workforce trained in science and engineering,” said Dr. Mario Diaz, Professor of Physics and Director of the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy. 

Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, President of The University of Texas at Brownsville, cited a 2011 study by the United States Department of Commerce indicating jobs in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM fields, is expected to grow 17 percent in the next decade compared to other fields predicted to have a 9.8 percent increase. In 2010, more than 7.6 million people worked in the STEM fields. 

“Be comfortable in knowing you are in the right place and studying in the right areas,” said Garcia. “At UT-Brownsville, we are focused on producing not only more STEM graduates, but more teachers in the STEM fields who can inspire generations of new students.” 

The university was among five finalists from a pool of 38 applicants to seek funding. The Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology provides financial support to Minority-Serving Institutions to provide research opportunities for faculty members and students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.  

“I was a bit skeptical because it was a tough competition,” said Diaz. “Now you have a lot of universities that are research institutions that are Minority-Serving Institutions.” 

Dr. Luis Colom, Vice President for Research, said the grant is expected to have at least a $20 million impact on the community through increased sales tax collections and purchases of homes, vehicles, gasoline, groceries and other items. 

The center was developed in 2003 with a $6 million grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and will mark its 10th anniversary in 2013.  

“I am particularly pleased that this grant will be able to support not just the growing research needs of the CGWA, but a large number of undergraduate and graduate student scholarships,” said Dr. Soma Mukherjee, Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. 

Since its founding the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy has generated more than $30 million in federal funding through faculty members and grants. The center generates at least 50 publications in international refereed journals a year. The center supports 13 faculty members, seven doctoral students, 20 master’s degree students and 11 undergraduate students.

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