Physics Professor Receives Five-Year Professorship

Posted: June 14, 2000 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Hope J Smith

Rita Sambruna, a newly appointed assistant professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department, recently was awarded the Clare Boothe Luce Professorship, which provides $417,599 over a five-year period. The award, administered by the Henry Luce Foundation, was established by its namesake “to encourage women to enter, study, graduate, and teach” in fields in which women traditionally have been underrepresented, such as science and engineering. Sambruna, who received her Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the International School of Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, previously received a National Research Council Fellowship.

When asked what drew her to George Mason, Sambruna is quick to make a long list that includes the university’s faculty and the metropolitan area’s surrounding research labs, among them NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the Naval Research Lab, and the Space Telescope Science Institute. The Physics and Astronomy Department and School of Computational Sciences faculties are composed of “world-class leaders in my field and form a well-established astronomy group,” she says. “Their work, which is mostly theoretical, complements very well my observational work.”

The Clare Boothe Luce Professorship is awarded to institutions that make a tenure-track appointment at the assistant or associate professor level to someone outside the existing faculty. “The intent of these grants is to identify young women scientists and engineers of the highest caliber and guarantee early in their careers that they are given professional opportunities within the academic world that are commensurate with their considerable talents,” notes the foundation’s website. The grants are generally given for appointments of women in faculty departments in which women are under- or unrepresented.

Sambruna, who comes to George Mason from Pennsylvania State University, studies Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN), which are very bright nuclei that outshine the light from hundreds of billions of stars within their galaxies. The power sources of AGN appear to be black holes. Using observations from various kinds of telescopes, Sambruna studies the emission properties of AGN to better understand the physical conditions of matter around the central black holes and the physical processes surrounding AGN. “The professorship,” says Sambruna, “allows me to obtain personal and professional growth by combining my research with teaching and educational activities. At Mason, I hope to involve students, both undergraduates and graduates, with exciting research opportunities in cutting-edge problems, using the latest astronomical technology.”

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