Don Smith

Fast Transient Observations of Optical Flares from Gamma Ray Bursts
Contact information:
Fellowship status:
Starting year: 2001
AAPF alumnus
Fellowship institution: University of Michigan
Current (or last known) position: Assistant Professor, Guilford College, Greensboro, NC
Research Interests:

The Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment (ROTSE) is dedicated to observation and detection of optical transients on time scales of seconds to days. The emphasis is on gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the most powerful explosions in our Universe. The ROTSE-III project consists of four identical, full-automated, 0.45 m (f/1.9) telescopes, placed at sites around the globe. The fast-slewing mounts can spin from horizon to horizon in less than 10 seconds. This equipment is quite modest by the standards of modern optical astronomy but the wide field of view and the fast response permit measurements inaccessible to more conventional instruments. When not chasing Gamma-Ray Bursts, these telescopes will perform sky surveys to study various unpredictable astrophysical transients, in addition to a guest observer program for astronomers affiliated with the hosting institutions that will comprise 30% of the observing time. In addition to writing operational, analysis, and scheduling software, as well as designing the project's web site, with its ability to monitor the performance of any ROTSE telescope in real-time, I am interested in studying the correlation of optical to high energy emission in compact binary transients, patterns of novae outbursts, and searching for new and interesting variable stars. See for more information and to see the ROTSE-III system in action as it becomes operational in mid-February, 2003.

Education and Outreach Interests:

One of the most exciting aspects of studying astronomy is how much interest the field evokes in people who study other disciplines, as well as people outside academia altogether. Last year I gave three public lectures on X-ray Astronomy as part of the University of Michigan's ongoing Saturday Morning Physics program, and the 300-seat lecture hall literally overflowed with people, from children to retirees. I am currently writing a script for a planetarium show about aspects of non-visible astronomy for the U of M Exhibit Museum of Natural History, and I am preparing to teach a short course on the long-term evolution of the universe for non-majors this term. Before my NSF tenure is up, I hope to teach a seminar about the night sky, using the ROTSE-III instruments and database as a resource for students. We also hope to turn the ongoing accumulation of night sky surveys provided by the ROTSE-III project into a vitual observatory of the sky's time domain for scientists, educators, and the general public alike.