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Causality and Communication: Relativistic astrophysical jets and the implementation of science communication training in astronomy classes

TitleCausality and Communication: Relativistic astrophysical jets and the implementation of science communication training in astronomy classes
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsKohler, SJ
Academic DepartmentAstrophysics and Planetary Sciences
DegreePh. D.
Number of Pages234
Date Published12-12014
UniversityUniversity of Colorado
CityBoulder, CO
Abstract

Part I: Relativistic jets emitted from the centers of some galaxies (called active galaxies) exhibit many interesting behaviors that are not yet fully understood: acceleration and collimation over vast distances, for instance, and occasional flaring activity. In the first part of my thesis, I examine the possibility of collimation and acceleration of relativistic jets by the pressure of the ambient medium surrounding the jet base. I discuss the differences in predicted jet behavior due to including the effects of a magnetic field threading the jet interior, and I describe the conditions that create some observed jet shapes, such as the “hollow cone” structure seen in M87 and similar jets. I also discuss what happens when the pressure outside of the jet drops so slowly that the jet shocks repeatedly, generating entropy at its boundary. Finally, I examine the spectra of the 40 brightest gamma-ray flares from blazars (active galaxies with jets pointed toward us) recorded by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope in its first four years of operation. I develop models to describe the observed behavior of these flares and discuss the physical implications of these models. 

Part II: The ability to clearly communicate scientific concepts to both peers and the lay public is an important component of being a scientist. Few training programs exist, however, for scientists to obtain these skills. In the second part of my thesis, I examine the impact of two different training efforts for very early-career scientists: first, a short science communication workshop for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduate students, and second, science communication training integrated into existing astrophysics classes for undergraduate STEM majors and early STEM graduate students. I evaluate whether the students’ written communication skills demonstrate measurable improvement after training, and track students’ attitudes toward science communication.