Observatory Staff and Faculty

David MorrisDr. David Morris, Director:

David Morris is a professor of Physics and Astronomy at UVI and the Director of the Etelman Observatory. He worked for four years at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and taught as a Part-Time Faculty member at George Washington University. At NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Dr. Morris worked as a member of the Science Mission Directorate. He primarily studied phenomena related to gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), specifically late-time episodes of emission known as flares, during which the GRB central engine (though to be a black-hole) restarts its emission process, sometimes days or weeks after the GRB initial explosion. Dr. Morris moved to St. Thomas in 2011.

While at UVI, Dr. Morris has overseen the reopening of Etelman Observatory to the public in 2012, has instituted the Observatory's first Summer Research Internship Program in 2013, and has developed research ties between UVI and NASA-Goddard. Five UVI students are currently working at Goddard this summer. Dr. Morris is also the PI of the NASA grants that currently fund UVI's new Bachelors of Science in Physics and Astronomy. He has led the development of the degree program since its inception.

Before Dr. Morris' arrival, the university lacked full-time astrophysicists. Over recent years, Dr. Morris has sought to hire some of the most talented astrophysics researchers and instructors in the world. He is now excited to have led the rapid growth of the astrophysics group to five full-time astrophysicists working at UVI. He also hosts committed and enthusiastic volunteers and community supporters. Together, they are dedicated to introducing students and adults to the fascinating phenomena of the night sky and to increasing opportunities in physics, astronomy, and aerospace engineering for all students in the Virgin Islands.

sunDr. Brice Orange, Consultant Astronomer and Software/Hardware Scientist:

Dr. N. Brice Orange is the Consultant Astronomer and Software/Hardware Scientist at the Etelman Observatory (EO), as well as the Lead Scientist and Founder of OrangeWave Innovative Science, LLC (OWIS).

In May of 2014, Dr. Orange received his Ph.D. from Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) for his solar physics and magnetohydrodynamics (MHDs) work. At FIT, he was the recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Earth/Sun Science Graduate Research fellowship and the NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium Graduate Fellowship for his software development on automated identification, analysis, and classification of dynamic transients in the Sun's atmosphere. Immediately after finishing graduate school, Dr. Orange spent some months traveling, surfing, and writing. During this period, he stumbled upon the realization that "the measure of success rivals the vastness of your own mentality." As a result, he founded OWIS as an interdisciplinary and dynamic platform for scientists to pursue their goals while dreaming their own dream.

At OWIS, Dr. Orange's main focus is studying the Sun, Earth, Atmosphere, and Climate as an integrated entity. He oversees contributions to this OWIS research objective from UVI physics faculty. He actively supervises solar and atmospheric research activities of UVI undergraduates. In maintaining his dedication to interdisciplinary research, he also actively works with other OWIS scientists on diverse research objectives: stellar and plasma physics, MHDs, magnetic neutral point reconnection, water fowl ecology, ecosystem criticality, political science, rocket science, in-space radiation shielding technologies, big data analytics, and semi-supervised classification framework development.

In February of 2015, he came a part of the observatory staff to oversee much of the day-to-day operations, among others; maintenance, upgrades, debugging, and testing of the observatory's robotic control software and telescope; and to contribute to various research, observing, and systematic objectives at the observatory; as well as to public outreach events. Since then, he has also worked with UVI's Marine and Environmental Science Department as a consultant researcher and software/hardware scientist on the university's fleet of remote weather sensing stations.

sunDr. Antonino Cucchiara:

Dr. Antonino (Nino) Cucchiara joined UVI in the Fall 2016 as an Assistant Professor. He spent the last several years between the NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center, the Space Telescope Science Institute and University of California Santa Cruz where he studied the most energetic explosions in the Universe called Gamma-ray Bursts (GRBs). He also investigates the early chemical enrichment of the Universe using the absorption lines spectroscopy of GRB afterglows and quasars. He worked on space missions like the Swift satellite. He is currently involved in several collaborations for the rapid follow-up observations of transients phenomena using robotic telescopes (e.g. VIRT) and some of the largest telescopes in the World, including the Gemini telescopes and the Discovery Channel Telescope through his scientific network.

sunDr. Jan Staff:

Dr. Staff joined UVI in the Fall 2016 as an Assistant Professor. He is a theoretical and numerical astrophysicist. His main research topics are mainly centered on hydrodynamical and magneto-hydrodynamical simulations. The simulations include jets and outflows from forming stars, common envelope interactions between giant, evolved stars and their companion stars or planets, and the merger of two white dwarfs. These simulations require the use of high performance computing systems that are essentially big clusters of normal computer linked together over a fast network.  Furthermore, Dr.  Staff is also very interested in the physics of ultracompact objects and their role in powering gamma-ray bursts and supernova.  Investigating the possible engine of long gamma-ray bursts was the topic of Dr. Staff's PhD thesis.

sunDr. Robert Strausbaugh:

Dr. Robert Strausbaugh joined UVI in the Fall of 2019 as a Postdoctoral Researcher. He recently received his PhD from Arizona State University; he completed his undergraduate degree at Georgia Tech.  His research focuses on transient/time-domain astronomy, with an emphasis on gamma-ray bursts and their afterglows.  His current work is divided between two main projects: 1) developing machine learning algorithms to identify transient phenomena in large astronomical databases, and 2) rapid follow-up of gamma-ray burst and gravitational wave triggers, for example using VIRT.  He is also interested and active in physics/astronomy outreach.

sunDr. Teresa Ashcraft:

Dr. Teresa Ashcraft recently joined UVI in 2019 as an Assistant Professor of Physics. She received her undergraduate degree in physics from Louisiana State University. She went on to study at Arizona State University where she received a PHD in Astrophysics. Her work utilizes data from the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Az and the famous Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Her research focuses on understanding galaxy evolution through the use of deep ground and space-based data of extragalactic fields. She is a member of the UVCANDELS team to use HST to observe these extragalactic deep fields in the Near-ultraviolet. Beyond research, Teresa is an avid science communicator and enjoys volunteering at public outreach events.

sunDr. Dario Carbone:

Dr. Carbone is an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of the Virgin Islands. He completed his undergrad studies at the University of Milan-Bicocca, in Italy in 2011. Then, he moved to the Netherlands where he obtained my PhD at the University of Amsterdam in 2016. After that, he was a postdoctoral research assistant at Texas Tech University. Finally, he became an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of the Virgin Islands in 2019.

His research interests lie in the field of time domain astronomy, with a special focus on radio astronomy. As such, he aims at characterizing the transient and variable radio sky, studying events that are among the most powerful and extreme in our Universe. These events range from supernovae, to X-ray Binaries, to neutron star mergers, and other so far unknown sources. In order to do this, he uses both observations from the most powerful radio telescopes in the world, like the Very Large Array and MeerKAT, and computer simulations.

sunMs. Priyadarshini "Priya" Gokuldass, Observatory Specialist:

Miss Priyadarshini Gokuldass works as an Observatory specialist at Etelman Observatory of the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas Campus. She recently received her Master’s Degree in Astronomy from San Francisco State University. She did her Bachelors’ Degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering at Anna University, Chennai, India. Her work is to oversee nightly observing activities of the Virgin Islands Robotic Telescope facility and to assist in carrying out analysis to support research programs at the Etelman Observatory. She did her Master’s thesis under Dr. Antonino Cucchiara from the University of Virgin Islands on a project to create a reduction pipeline for processing the optical images obtained using the RCT (Robotically-Controlled Telescope) at Kitt Peak and the Virgin Island Robotic Telescope (VIRT). 

 


Volunteers

sunMr. and Mrs. Andy and Bonnie Watts:

Andy and Bonnie Watts are long time residents of St. Thomas (25 and 35 years respectively) with a love and deep knowledge of the night sky. Mr. and Mrs. Watts own the most extensive collection of telescopic equipment in the Virgin Islands. They are kind enough to share several of their instruments with the general public during the Etelman Observatory open houses. With the exception of the VIRT, most telescopes on the observing deck and the back porch belong to Mr. and Mrs. Watts. In early 2016, Mr. Watts formally incorporated a non-profit organization called the St. Thomas Astronomical Resources Society (STARS), St. Thomas' only amateur astronomers association. This group has begun meeting occassionally when Mr. Watts has time in between work and Etelman Observatory events. Aside from being a great astronomer, Mr. Watts is also one of the VI's most well respected and busiest carpenters. Since the very inception of public nights in 2012, Andy and Bonnie have been helping out with Etelman Observatory events.

d smithDr. David Smith:

Dr. David J. Smith is the principle investigator of the VI-EPSCoR-sponsored Virgin Islands Microscale Weather Modeling (VIMWM) incubator project. The VIMWM seeks to establish viable local weather forecasts for the US Virgin Islands and neighboring islands. UVI's computing cluster is presently being replaced with funds from a Title III grant and should be operational by the beginning of 2013. The new cluster will be used by many CSM faculty and students for high performance computing in a variety of research areas. The WRF forecast model will be installed on the cluster to generate microscale (< 1.0 km) forecasts for the Virgin Islands region. 

Measuring Near-Shore Bulk Sea Temperatures, a closely related project sponsored by VI-EPSCoR, has recently completed a nearly two-year run of collecting near-shore bulk sea temperatures around St. Thomas. This data, along with far-shore bulk temperatures derived from concurrent satellite images, will be utilized to produce an algorithm. This will allow the near-shore bulk sea surface temperatures to be determined more accurately from the real-time satellite data. The improved near-shore temperatures will be incorporated into the local forecast model to improve calculation of evaporation rates, which are critical to accurate forecasting.

The Virgin Islands Microscale Weather Modeling project seeks to establish specific weather predictions initially for the US Virgin Islands and eventually for other Caribbean islands. The project will use the internationally recognized weather-modeling program, Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF), running on UVI's new 120-core computer cluster. The cluster is funded by SAFRA. The WRF model will generate daily local weather predictions on the sub-kilometer scale. UVI students may become involved through outreach to the local schools, in running and modifying the model, and designing a public web presence.

sunMr. Ricky Callwood:

Mr. Callwood is a 'born-in-St.Thomas' local and is an avid amateur astronomer with a deep knowledge of the night sky.

He has a love of sharing scientific details behind the objects visitors see through his eyepiece. In 2015, Mr. Callwood became our second volunteer amateur astronomer (after Mr. and Mrs. Watts). He now assists regularly in all Observatory events.

sunMr. Tyler Yannone:

Mr. Yannone is a student at Antilles school on St. Thomas and has a passion for all things astronomical. Tyler volunteered to help out at Etelman public nights 3 years ago and learned how to control the VIRT through computer commands. Tyler now has his own telescope that he brings to public events and loves to share his knowledge with visitors.