Transition Workshop brings SAMSI’s ASTRO Program to Close

SAMSI recently hosted an ASTRO Transition Workshop from May 8-10, 2017. The workshop was the final event of SAMSI’s Program on Statistical, Mathematical and Computational Methods for Astronomy (ASTRO) and was attended by numerous astrophysicists, astronomers and astrostatisticians from across the country.

Nearly 40 participants attended the workshop in order to discuss their findings compiled from multiple working groups formed throughout the past academic year. The organizing committee for the program listened to spokespersons from each group as they presented their findings. The group also discussed continuing future collaborations between these working groups once the program was over.

SAMSI’s ASTRO program liaison and Deputy Director, Sujit Ghosh, noted that the ASTRO program has been successful in creating a cohesive bond between the statistical and mathematical sciences and the disciplinary sciences, like astronomy and astrophysics. According to Ghosh, this coupling is helping to systematically streamline the analysis of huge data sets that are produced from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), gravitational wave (GW) research and exoplanet discoveries.

A panel, consisting of ASTRO program leaders, collected feedback from the numerous researchers in attendance. A significant issue that researchers brought up was the challenge of publishing research articles in domain sciences (i.e. core stat or astrophysics journals) versus the disciplinary sciences. This issue was viewed as a significant obstacle when using these research papers as a reference for tenure-based decisions. The panel of program leaders could not determine the best way to address this situation. Instead they agreed that this topic should be readdressed during future interdisciplinary engagements, like transition workshops.

“This [ICTS-SAMSI] workshop helped form several collaborations to enable what will likely prove to be a fruitful collaboration among people from diverse backgrounds that can propel the progress of science”

Overall, the ASTRO Program focused on ways to create solid partnerships between researchers in applied mathematics, astronomy, astrophysics and statistics (professionals who do not ordinarily work together in the field). In fact, the concept of astrostatistics emerged from numerous collaborations, like this one, between researchers during past SAMSI programs. The partnerships created by this program are important because they could potentially advance research in astronomy. In addition, three mid-program workshops (one on Exoplanets in the Fall of 2016 and two on Synoptic Surveys and GW Astronomy and Astrophysical Population Emulation in the Spring of 2017) were organized by the researchers to support the program during the past year.

SAMSI also expanded its international collaboration capability by organizing a joint workshop with the International Center for Theoretical Sciences (ICTS) in

Bengaluru, India. This workshop enabled scientists to share their ideas and work together across two continents in order to explore the grand challenges in gravitational waves time domain astronomy.

“SAMSI workshops and working groups have helped me understand how my thesis work fits into the larger scientific picture and how to gain a better understanding of what our science priorities are as a community of observational astronomers,” said Jackeline Moreno, a graduate student at Drexel University, who was a member of one of the working groups. Moreno said she was impressed with how the joint workshop brought together experts from around the world and from different research backgrounds to come together and share techniques and insights for analyzing time series data.

Kaustabh Vaghmare, a data scientist from the Inter -University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune, India, who also attended the ICTS-SAMSI workshop, agreed. Vaghmare began by saying that time domain astronomy has improved a great deal in the last decade, due in large part, to advances in robotic telescopes, image processing and database technologies. These advances, according to Vaghmare, have given astronomers the ability to organize several systematic surveys of the sky. In addition to those advances though, Vaghmare sited the importance of the human aspect as a valuable way of sharing information. “This [ICTS-SAMSI] workshop helped form several collaborations to enable what will likely prove to be a fruitful collaboration among people from diverse backgrounds that can propel the progress of science,” he said.

Joint workshops, like the ICTS-SAMSI workshop, help SAMSI to emphasize the value of collaborating with other institutions or across fields of study. The results of these collaborations creates more dynamic ways to solve traditional problems using the tools of applied mathematics and statistics as a guide.

The program offered academic courses on Analytical Methods and Applications to Astrophysics and Astronomy in the fall of 2016 and Time Series Methods for Astronomy this past spring. The program also provided numerous opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to participate and see what future opportunities are available to them in the field of astronomy from a mathematician’s point of view.

As the ASTRO Program transitions, SAMSI sets its sights on the two new 2017-2018 programs: Program on Mathematical and Statistical Methods for Climate and the Earth System (CLIM) and the Program on Quasi-Monte Carlo and High Dimensional Sampling Methods for Applied Mathematics (QMC). Both programs open this August and will end in May 2018.