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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Syracuse University physicist named 2010 Cottrell Scholar

Award recognizes outstanding scientist-educators

Jan. 10, 2011, by Judy Holmes

Duncan Brown, assistant professor of physics in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, was named a 2010 Cottrell Scholar by Research Corporation for Science Advancement. The prestigious award recognizes outstanding scientist-educators in leading U.S. research universities and comes with a $75,000 grant to further the recipient’s teaching and research.  Brown is among 11 early-career scientists nationwide to receive the 2010 award.

Founded in 1912, Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) is the oldest foundation dedicated wholly to science and the second-oldest foundation in the United States (after the Carnegie Corporation).  RCSA is a leading advocate for the sciences and a major funder of scientific innovation and research in colleges and universities across the United States.

The RCSA’s Cottrell Awards are named for Frederick Gardner Cottrell, whose generosity made the RCSA possible and whose invention of the electrostatic precipitator was an early environmental innovation that reduced pollution from smokestacks.

Brown is among a large group of scientists, from the United States and abroad, who are affiliated with the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana. LIGO was built to detect and study gravitational waves.  Similar observatories have also been built in Europe and Japan.

Brown will use his award to support student research in gravitational-wave astrophysics and to enhance the experiences of undergraduate students taking Astronomy 101 through The College’s Department of Physics.

Specifically, Brown proposes to recruit and mentor undergraduate students on multi-year research projects in gravitational-wave astronomy, with the goal that each student’s research will lead to a scientific publication upon graduation.

The Cottrell Award will also support Brown’s efforts to implement student-centered teaching and peer instruction in Astronomy 101. These teaching methods incorporate small-group learning into large-lecture courses and have been shown to produce substantial gains in student learning.  Brown has been using lecture tutorials developed by the Conceptual Astronomy and Physics Education Research (CAPER) team in his Astronomy 101 class.  The 15-minute exercises are completed during class and promote critical thinking about concepts in astronomy.

In collaboration with Sharon Dotger, assistant professor of science education in The College of Arts and Sciences and in the Teaching and Leadership Program in SU’s School of Education, and Steven Stewart, a science teaching graduate student, Brown also proposes to develop new lecture tutorials and laboratory exercises for Astronomy 101. All of the material will be available online.

Brown holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and a master’s degree in mathematics with first class honors from University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the United Kingdom.

Prior to coming to SU in 2007, Brown was a post-doctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology and held a joint appointment with the Theoretical Astrophysics and LIGO Laboratory. He is a 2009 recipient of the NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, which includes a five-year, $550,000 grant for his black hole and gravitational-wave research, and a 2009 Kavli Frontiers Fellow. Brown also received a 2010 Meredith Teaching Recognition Award from Syracuse University, which recognizes excellence in teaching.