University of Maryland Astronomy Professor Andrew Harris has been named chair of the Department of Astronomy, effective July 1, 2017. Harris joined UMD in 1997 as an associate professor and was promoted to professor in 2007. In 2010, he was also named an affiliate professor in the UMD Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
“I am excited and honored to accept this appointment as an opportunity to serve the department, college and university,” Harris said. “Our research facilities and partnerships, world-class faculty and vibrant student body make the department a truly special place to do astronomy. We have accomplished much together since I joined the department and I look forward to a bright future ahead.”
The main goal of Harris' research is to understand the energetics and physical conditions within galaxies and their nuclei. Part of this effort involves developing instrumentation for radio observations over wide bandwidths and wide fields of view at the Green Bank Observatory and other sites. Harris’ work also involves spectroscopy of individual high-redshift galaxies and of the integrated molecular emission from clusters of galaxies.
Closer to home, Harris uses data from the Herschel Space Telescope and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) airborne observatory to probe our galactic center, to understand the physical conditions in this complex region and to extrapolate these observations to more distant galaxies.
Harris earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, and his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of California, Davis. Upon completion of his doctorate, Harris spent eight years as a research physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, before accepting a position as associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Since joining UMD, Harris has served on the University Senate, where he sat on the Executive Committee and served two terms as chair of the Programs, Curricula, and Courses Committee. He has been a visiting scientist at the University of Cologne in Germany, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and the California Institute of Technology. Harris is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the International Union of Radio Science and IEEE.
Harris succeeds Stuart Vogel who completed a 10-year term as astronomy chair. During Vogel’s tenure, the department forged several new partnerships, including the Joint Space-Science Institute, a collaboration between the Department of Astronomy, the Department of Physics and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; as well as a partnership with the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, which provides UMD astronomers with access to the 4.2-meter Discovery Channel Telescope.
The department also improved its facilities, partnering with the Department of Physics to design and build the Physical Sciences Complex and making key renovations to the Atlantic Building (formerly known as the Computer and Space Sciences Building). The research scope of the department also expanded to include two rapidly growing fields: time-domain astronomy and exoplanet research.
Under Vogel’s leadership, the department doubled its annual federal research funding to nearly $30 million, while becoming the fourth largest producer of undergraduate astronomy majors in the United States. These undergraduates have won prestigious awards such as Goldwater Scholarships and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, and have earned admission to top-ranked graduate programs around the country and abroad.
Vogel also oversaw a variety of initiatives to increase diversity in the department, including hiring three new female faculty members, forming a departmental equity and inclusion committee, and developing a weekly seminar series called Better Astronomy for the New Generation (BANG) that focuses on diversity and career development issues.
“I am very proud of everything the department has accomplished while I have served as chair,” Vogel said. “But I am proudest of these efforts to make the department more equitable. The department will be in great hands with Andy, and I look forward to all the great things yet to come under his leadership.”
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The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 7,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college's 10 departments and more than a dozen interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $150 million.