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Rutkowski wins Fulbright Research Scholarship

May 25, 2011

Michael Rutkowski, a doctoral student in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, has received a prestigious Fulbright Research Scholarship to continue his research on the compositions and ages of the stellar populations extant in distant early-type galaxies at Yonsei University in South Korea.

Rutkowski, who received his masters in astrophysics through SESE in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences based on work on X-ray supernova remnants, will begin his Fulbright-sponsored research in November.

“With the Fulbright Scholar program you specify preferences for multiple sites where you would like to carry out your research, but my first and only choice was South Korea to work with Professor Sukyoung Yi,” says Rutkowski. With his research interests in South Korea tied to his doctoral research, specifically older stellar populations in early-type galaxies and the morphology of UV light profiles of those galaxies, which Yonsei University has both experience and familiarity with, it was an easy decision for Rutkowski.

The Fulbright Scholar Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, is the largest U.S. international exchange program for students, scholars, and professionals in the world. It currently operates in more than 155 countries, with recipients chosen based on their academic merit and leadership potential.

During his year in South Korea, Rutkowski will work at Yonsei University in Seoul with Yi’s Galaxy Evolution team of students and post-docs. He will be using Hubble Space Telescope multi-wavelength imaging to better understand the compositions and ages of the stellar populations extant in distant early-type galaxies.

Rutkowski grew up in Urbanna, Va. and attended Hampden Sydney College, a small private liberal arts school in Va., double-majoring in physics and mathematics before pursuing his masters degree at ASU. Once he completes his doctorate in late 2012/early 2013, Rutkowski hopes to continue his research, as a post-doc at a research university or NASA facility, into the nature of stellar populations in early-type galaxies over the past 6 billion years. He also intends on applying to a number of public policy fellowships that would put him near Capitol Hill and back on the East Coast.

“If we (in the astrophysics community) are going to conduct all of the research that we think is important, we are going to have to look more often to international collaborations. As missions and observatories grow increasingly more expensive, and public investment in a diverse program of fundamental, experimental science declines, we’ll have to split the cost with international collaborators if our missions are going to fly,” explains Rutkowski.

“I hope that this experience increases the opportunities for joint research programs with Korea, a nation that is dramatically ramping up their investment in launch vehicle, detector, and satellite technologies. Collaborations will enhance the science programs of both nations. With some nations in the region moving to weaponize space, I think my emphasis on the use of space-based observatories for scientific purposes in my proposal caught the interest of the State department officials that reviewed my application.”

As for spending a year abroad, Rutkowski looks forward to it, but expects the transition will take a little longer than in the past.

“Each country always has its various cultural or social mores to be aware of but in most of the countries in which I’ve lived abroad, like Australia or England when I was studying mathematics at Sydney University as an undergraduate or at Oxford University as part of my dissertation, you can learn those quickly,” he says, adding, “Only on short trips to Europe or Central America have there been language barriers to overcome.”

The de facto language of science is English, so he won’t have to worry about learning enough Korean to deliver talks to the community at Yonsei and at conferences.

Professor Rogier Windhorst, Rutkowski’s advisor, enthusiastically endorsed his application, saying, “Michael has excelled at ASU since setting foot on campus,” says Windhorst. “He is intelligent, intellectually curious, passionate about science, and committed to making a difference in the world. That combination will take him far.”

Rutkowski is one of 17 ASU students to have won Fulbright awards to study and teach abroad next year, in 14 different countries.