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Physicist Reaches for the Sky

Elliott Horch, associate professor of physics, is proving to be one of the academic stars of the university.

He was recently presented with Southern’s Faculty-Scholar Award — given to a faculty member with a single exceptional scholarly work that has appeared in a public forum during the previous five years. Criteria for selection also include the work’s peer recognition, its social merit, and the extent of its advancement of knowledge and/or its creative contribution, all of which are established by outside evaluators.

In Horch’s case, his invention of a Differential Speckle Survey Instrument (DSSI) – a device that attaches to a telescope to significantly enhance the clarity of the images – earned him the award. He was honored during a ceremony on March 11 in the lobby of the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts.

Horch developed the device after securing a $352,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The project was completed in 2008 and sent to the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, Ariz. The primary intent was to study binary stars in an attempt to find out more about the origins of our own solar system. And while it is used for that purpose, it recently was selected for use by NASA’s Kepler mission – a project in which astronomers are looking for life-bearing, Earth-like planets in the Milky Way Galaxy. In fact, it was used in the discovery of Kepler 22b, the first small planet outside the solar system that was found to orbit its sun in what astronomers call the habitable zone – a distance that is believed to be neither too close nor too far from its sun.

It was also recently used to photograph Pluto and its moon, Charon. The device enabled astronomers to get the sharpest images ever of both from a ground-based telescope.

Steve Howell, deputy project scientist for the Kepler mission, has been enthusiastic about Horch’s device since he first saw it in 2008. He referred to it in a newsletter as “one of the little-known but most impressive instruments at the WIYN Observatory at Kitt Peak.”

Horch says that he was encouraged to apply for the award by James Dolan, professor of physics and the department’s former chairman.

“In the far future, after a space probe with Earth reaches a planet orbiting a distant star and a scholar writes a history of how Earthlings reached beyond the solar system, an early chapter will be called Kepler,” Dolan says. “And among the scientists in the long list of references will appear the name E. Horch.”

Horch says he appreciates Dolan’s continual support throughout his tenure at Southern. He adds that he is grateful to the awards committee, but says there were many excellent candidates. “I think there’s a lot of interesting research and creative activity going on at Southern – much more than many people in the statewide community probably realize – so it’s an honor to be selected.”

The Faculty-Scholar Award is the latest in a string of honors Horch has received for his invention. In 2009, he was the Platinum Recipient for the Connecticut Quality Improvement Award Innovation Prize. And two years later, he earned the Norton Mezvinsky Trustees Research Award from what was then known as the Connecticut State University System.

His DSSI will be available this summer for users of the 8-meter telescope at the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii.

Marianne Kennedy, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, says Horch has been a tremendous asset to the Southern community. “He exemplifies what a teacher-scholar is all about – someone who conducts outstanding research while excelling in the classroom as an educator,” she says.

Kennedy also notes that the DSSI will be available this summer for users of the 8-meter telescope at the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii,

NEWS NOTE: The New Haven Register ran a story on Elliott Horch’s device in its Jan. 6, 2013 edition. The following is a link to the article:



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