9 Rutgers professors were named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science - of which 2 are MPS professors: Saurabh W. Jha (Department of Physics) and Robert E. Kopp (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences). Congratulations to Saurabh and Robert!

Saurabh W. Jha, Department of Physics

Honored for his contributions to the study of Type Ia supernovae, including significant insights on their intrinsic properties and their use as cosmological probes

One of the hardest aspects of astrophysics is determining how far away things are in space relative to Earth. Saurabh W. Jha works to address this cosmic conundrum.

Jha studies light from a unique exploding star, a Type Ia supernova (SN Ia). Because these stars explode with a similar luminosity every time – what’s known as a “standard candle” in astronomy – they make ideal tools for calculating astronomical distances, data that can then be used for studying other aspects of the cosmos, such as how fast the universe is expanding.

“This is important because it tells us how old the universe is and what it is made of,” Jha said.

Finding a SN Ia isn’t easy. For starters, they’re rare, occurring only about once every 500 years in a galaxy like our Milky Way. Moreover, these stars can only be observed after they explode, Jha said, so finding them requires scanning thousands of galaxies with ground- and space-based telescopes.

Once a SN Ia is discovered, researchers only have a few months before its light fades too much to be useful.

Like the universe itself, Jha’s expertise is always growing. As a graduate student at Harvard, he was part of a team that discovered that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, research that won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011. Today, he leads a team working to understand the properties of the stars they chase. (Astronomers don’t know why Type Ia supernovae explode with consistent brightness – about 10 billion times brighter than our Sun – only that they do).

Jha’s group uses data from Rutgers’ share of the Southern African Large Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope and, most recently, the James Webb Space Telescope.

“It’s a privilege to be able to do curiosity-driven research,” said Jha. “We do this not because it will change daily lives, but because humans are by our very nature explorers. We want to learn about the universe, see light from millions of years ago, see stars that were exploding billions of years ago, understand how the universe is evolving, how galaxies are forming – and just maybe, to learn more about how we got here.”

– Gregory Bruno

Robert E. Kopp, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences

Honored for distinguished contributions to the field of climate science, particularly using statistical process modeling to estimate sea level change

Looking back is an essential part of moving forward, according to climate and sea-level scientist Robert E. Kopp.

Kopp’s research focuses on how our environment has changed over geological time and how this relates to current and future climate change. For example, his research group’s work has shown that global sea level rise in the last century has been faster than in any century in at least 3,000 years.

“People are already experiencing the effects of climate change, and those effects will continue to grow worse until we address them,” said Kopp, who also is a director of the Climate Impact Lab, a nonprofit research organization. “We need to make decisions now about how we will limit future climate change and its impacts.”

In addition to looking to the past, Kopp investigates issues such as how warming oceans and melting ice sheets drive different rates of future sea level rise across the world, and how to characterize the uncertainty in these forecasts.

His group’s work forecasting future sea level change has been a major component of two recent national climate assessments and is used by states throughout the nation. Kopp, who recently was named a co-chair of the new National Academies Roundtable on Macroeconomics and Climate-Related Risks and Opportunities, also helped lead the development of sea-level rise projections in the most recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

As a climate policy scholar, Kopp considers how climate change data supports decision-making at different scales – from how local governments plan land use to how the federal government incorporates climate change costs into regulatory frameworks.

Kopp is the principal investigator of the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH), a $20 million, 13-institution, National Science Foundation-led grant studying how risks from rising seas, shifting storms, eroding coastlines and changing development patterns interact and shape climate vulnerability in complex, urbanized regions such as the area surrounding Rutgers, extending from New York City through New Jersey to Philadelphia.

In addition to his research, Kopp codirects Rutgers’ University Office of Climate Action, which provides oversight and accountability for Rutgers’ Climate Action Plan. Through both MACH and the Office of Climate Action, Kopp hopes to help Rutgers build a global-leading model of campus-community-government partnership for climate action.

– Megan Florance

About AAAS

Rutgers faculty elected to the newest class of fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) are engaging in research to enhance our understanding of the universe, prepare the world to address climate change and find ways to restore brain function after traumatic injury or disease.

Their work demonstrates the breadth of ongoing research at the university that is changing the world and making a difference in people’s lives. The nine faculty members are working to bring critical research tools to scientists worldwide, help us better understand our ecosystems from the oceans to the role pollinators play in our food supply and improve the way we communicate about risk.

“Rutgers’ newest fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science exemplify the excellence of our faculty,” said Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway. “Their scholarly achievements, as recognized by their peers, fulfill the AAAS mission to advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people and honor Rutgers’ mission to serve the common good.”

Rutgers' AAAS fellows are among 506 scientists, engineers and innovators spanning 24 scientific disciplines ranging from research, teaching and technology, to administration in academia, industry and government, to excellence in communicating and interpreting science to the public.

AAAS, the world's largest multidisciplinary scientific society and a leading publisher of cutting-edge research through its Science family of journals, announced the newest members of the class of fellows on Jan. 31. It is among the most distinct honors within the scientific community.

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