M. Coleman Miller

Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, California, United States

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Publications (130)559.97 Total impact

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    M. Coleman Miller, Jon M. Miller
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    ABSTRACT: Stellar-mass black holes and neutron stars represent extremes in gravity, density, and magnetic fields. They therefore serve as key objects in the study of multiple frontiers of physics. In addition, their origin (mainly in core-collapse supernovae) and evolution (via accretion or, for neutron stars, magnetic spindown and reconfiguration) touch upon multiple open issues in astrophysics. In this review, we discuss current mass and spin measurements and their reliability for neutron stars and stellar-mass black holes, as well as the overall importance of spins and masses for compact object astrophysics. Current masses are obtained primarily through electromagnetic observations of binaries, although future microlensing observations promise to enhance our understanding substantially. The spins of neutron stars are straightforward to measure for pulsars, but the birth spins of neutron stars are more difficult to determine. In contrast, even the current spins of stellar-mass black holes are challenging to measure. As we discuss, major inroads have been made in black hole spin estimates via analysis of iron lines and continuum emission, with reasonable agreement when both types of estimate are possible for individual objects, and future X-ray polarization measurements may provide additional independent information. We conclude by exploring the exciting prospects for mass and spin measurements from future gravitational wave detections, which are expected to revolutionize our understanding of strong gravity and compact objects.
    Physics Reports. 08/2014;
  • M. Coleman Miller, Frederick K. Lamb
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    ABSTRACT: We have developed sophisticated new Bayesian analysis methods that enable us to estimate quickly the masses and radii of rapidly rotating, oblate neutron stars using the energy-resolved waveforms of their X-ray burst oscillations and to determine the uncertainties in these mass and radius estimates. We demonstrate these methods by generating and analyzing the energy-resolved burst oscillation waveforms that would be produced by a hot spot on various rapidly rotating, oblate stars, using the analytic implementation of the oblate-star Schwarzschild-spacetime (OS) approximation introduced by Morsink et al. 2007. In generating these synthetic data, we assume that 10$^6$ counts have been collected from the hot spot and that the background is $9\times10^6$ counts. This produces a realistic modulation amplitude and a total number of counts comparable to the number that could be obtained by future space missions, by combining data from many bursts from a given star. We compute the joint posterior distribution of the mass $M$ and radius $R_{\rm eq}$ in standard models, for each synthetic waveform, and use these posterior distributions to determine the confidence regions in the $M$-$R_{\rm eq}$ plane for each synthetic waveform and model. We find that OS waveform fits to OS synthetic data determine $M$ and $R_{\rm eq}$ to within 3%-7% for rotation rates $>300$ Hz and spot and observer inclinations $>60^\circ$, uncertainties comparable to those we obtained previously when fitting Schwarzschild+Doppler waveform models to Schwarzschild+Doppler synthetic data. We also find that fitting a model that assumes a uniform-temperature spot to waveforms generated using a spot in which the temperature varies with latitude by 25% does not significantly bias $M$ and $R_{\rm eq}$ estimates.
    07/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: If binaries consisting of two 100 Msun black holes exist they would serve as extraordinarily powerful gravitational-wave sources, detectable to redshifts of z=2 with the advanced LIGO/Virgo ground-based detectors. Large uncertainties about the evolution of massive stars preclude definitive rate predictions for mergers of these massive black holes. We show that rates as high as hundreds of detections per year, or as low as no detections whatsoever, are both possible. It was thought that the only way to produce these massive binaries was via dynamical interactions in dense stellar systems. This view has been challenged by the recent discovery of several stars with mass greater than 150 Msun in the R136 region of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Current models predict that when stars of this mass leave the main sequence, their expansion is insufficient to allow common envelope evolution to efficiently reduce the orbital separation. The resulting black-hole--black-hole binary remains too wide to be able to coalesce within a Hubble time. If this assessment is correct, isolated very massive binaries do not evolve to be gravitational-wave sources. However, other formation channels exist. For example, the high multiplicity of massive stars, and their common formation in relatively dense stellar associations, opens up dynamical channels for massive black hole mergers (e.g., via Kozai cycles or repeated binary-single interactions). We identify key physical factors that shape the population of very massive black-hole--black-hole binaries. Advanced gravitational-wave detectors will provide important constraints on the formation and evolution of very massive stars.
    The Astrophysical Journal 03/2014; 789(2). · 6.73 Impact Factor
  • Constanze Roedig, Julian H. Krolik, M. Coleman Miller
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    ABSTRACT: Observations indicate that most massive galaxies contain a supermassive black hole, and theoretical studies suggest that when such galaxies have a major merger, the central black holes will form a binary and eventually coalesce. Here we discuss two spectral signatures of such binaries that may help distinguish them from ordinary AGN. These signatures are expected when the mass ratio between the holes is not extreme and the system is fed by a circumbinary disk. One such signature is a notch in the thermal continuum that has been predicted by other authors; we point out that it should be accompanied by a spectral revival at shorter wavelengths and also discuss its dependence on binary properties such as mass, mass ratio, and separation. In particular, we note that the wavelength $\lambda_n$ at which the notch occurs depends on these three parameters in such a way as to make the number of systems displaying these notches $\propto \lambda_n^{16/3}$; longer wavelength searches are therefore strongly favored. A second signature, first discussed here, is hard X-ray emission with a Wien-like spectrum at a characteristic temperature $\sim 100$ keV produced by Compton cooling of the shock generated when streams from the circumbinary disk hit the accretion disks around the individual black holes. We investigate the observability of both signatures. The hard X-ray signal may be particularly valuable as it can provide an indicator of black hole merger a few decades in advance of the event.
    02/2014; 785(2).
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    M. Coleman Miller, Sean A. Farrell, Thomas J. Maccarone
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    ABSTRACT: The brightest ultraluminous X-ray source currently known, HLX-1, has been observed to undergo five outburst cycles. The periodicity of these outbursts, and their high inferred maximum accretion rates of $\sim{\rm few}\times 10^{-4} M_\odot {\rm yr}^{-1}$, naturally suggest Roche lobe overflow at the pericenter of an eccentric orbit. It is, however, difficult for the Roche lobe overflow model to explain the apparent trend of decreasing decay times over the different outbursts while the integrated luminosity also drops. Thus if the trend is real rather than simply being a reflection of the complex physics of accretion disks, a different scenario may be necessary. We present a speculative model in which, within the last decade, a high-mass giant star had most of its envelope tidally stripped by the $\sim 10^{4-5} M_\odot$ black hole in HLX-1, and the remaining core plus low-mass hydrogen envelope now feeds the hole with a strong wind. This model can explain the short decay time of the disk, and could explain the fast decrease in decay time if the wind speed increases with time. A key prediction of this model is that there will be excess line absorption due to the wind; our analysis does in fact find a flux deficit in the $\sim 0.9-1.1$ keV range that is consistent with predictions, albeit at low significance. If this idea is correct, we also expect that within tens of years the bound material from the original disruption will return and will make HLX-1 a persistently bright source.
    The Astrophysical Journal 02/2014; 788(2). · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    M. Coleman Miller
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    ABSTRACT: Ever since the discovery of neutron stars it has been realized that they serve as probes of a physical regime that cannot be accessed in laboratories: strongly degenerate matter at several times nuclear saturation density. Existing nuclear theories diverge widely in their predictions about such matter. It could be that the matter is primarily nucleons, but it is also possible that exotic species such as hyperons, free quarks, condensates, or strange matter may dominate this regime. Astronomical observations of cold high-density matter are necessarily indirect, which means that we must rely on measurements of quantities such as the masses and radii of neutron stars and their surface effective temperatures as a function of age. Here we review the current status of constraints from various methods and the prospects for future improvements.
    11/2013;
  • M. Coleman Miller, Julian H. Krolik
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    ABSTRACT: Recent studies of accretion onto supermassive black hole binaries suggest that much, perhaps most, of the matter eventually accretes onto one hole or the other. If so, then for binaries whose inspiral from ~1 pc to 0.001 - 0.01 pc is driven by interaction with external gas, both the binary orbital axis and the individual black hole spins can be reoriented by angular momentum exchange with this gas. Here we show that, unless the binary mass ratio is far from unity, the spins of the individual holes align with the binary orbital axis in a time few-100 times shorter than the binary orbital axis aligns with the angular momentum direction of the incoming circumbinary gas; the spin of the secondary aligns more rapidly than that of the primary by a factor ~(m_1/m_2)^{1/2}>1. Thus the binary acts as a stabilizing agent, so that for gas-driven systems, the black hole spins are highly likely to be aligned (or counteraligned if retrograde accretion is common) with each other and with the binary orbital axis. This alignment can significantly reduce the recoil speed resulting from subsequent black hole merger.
    The Astrophysical Journal 07/2013; 774(1). · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Simultaneous, precise measurements of the mass $M$ and radius $R$ of neutron stars can yield uniquely valuable information about the still uncertain properties of cold matter at several times the density of nuclear matter. One method that could be used to measure $M$ and $R$ is to analyze the energy-dependent waveforms of the X-ray flux oscillations seen during some thermonuclear bursts from some neutron stars. These oscillations are thought to be produced by X-ray emission from hotter regions on the surface of the star that are rotating at or near the spin frequency of the star. Here we explore how well $M$ and $R$ could be determined by generating, and analyzing using Bayesian techniques, synthetic energy-resolved X-ray data that we produce assuming a future space mission having 2--30 keV energy coverage and an effective area of 10 m$^2$, such as the proposed \textit{LOFT} or \textit{AXTAR} missions. We find that if the hot spot is within 10$^\circ$ of the rotation equator, both $M$ and $R$ can usually be determined with an uncertainty of about 10% if there are $10^6$ total counts from the spot, whereas waveforms from spots within 20$^\circ$ of the rotation pole provide no useful constraints. These constraints can usually be achieved even if the burst oscillations vary with time and data from multiple bursts must be used to obtain 10$^6$ counts from the hot spot. This is therefore a promising method to constrain $M$ and $R$ tightly enough to discriminate strongly between competing models of cold, high-density matter.
    The Astrophysical Journal 04/2013; · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Precise and accurate measurements of neutron star masses and radii would provide valuable information about the still uncertain properties of cold matter at supranuclear densities. One promising approach to making such measurements involves analysis of the X-ray flux oscillations often seen during thermonuclear (type 1) X-ray bursts. These oscillations are almost certainly produced by emission from hotter regions on the stellar surface modulated by the rotation of the star. One consequence of the rotation is that the oscillation should appear earlier at higher photon energies than at lower energies. Ford (1999) found compelling evidence for such a hard lead in the tail oscillations of one type 1 burst from Aql X-1. We have therefore analyzed individually the oscillations observed in the tails of the four type 1 bursts from 4U 1636-536 that, when averaged, provided the strongest evidence for a soft lead in the analysis by Muno et al. (2003). We have also analyzed the oscillation observed during the superburst from this star. We find that the data from these five bursts, treated both individually and jointly, are fully consistent with a rotating hot spot model. Unfortunately, the uncertainties in these data are too large to provide interesting constraints on the mass and radius of this star.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 03/2013; 433(1). · 5.52 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Precisely measured neutron star masses and especially radii would provide unique constraints on the properties of cold matter at several times nuclear density. Observations using the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer suggest that such measurements might be possible using thermonuclear X-ray bursts. Here we discuss the prospects for mass and radius constraints, with a particular focus on potential systematic errors.
    Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union 02/2013; 8(S290):101-108.
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    ABSTRACT: Interacting galaxies often have complexes of hundreds of young stellar clusters of individual masses ~ 10^{4-6} Msun in regions that are a few hundred parsecs across. These cluster complexes interact dynamically, and their coalescence is a candidate for the origin of some ultracompact dwarf galaxies (UCDs). Individual clusters with short relaxation times are candidates for the production of intermediate-mass black holes of a few hundred solar masses, via runaway stellar collisions prior to the first supernovae in a cluster. It is therefore possible that a cluster complex hosts multiple intermediate-mass black holes that may be ejected from their individual clusters due to mergers or binary processes, but bound to the complex as a whole. Here we explore the dynamical interaction between initially free-flying massive black holes and clusters in an evolving cluster complex. We find that, after hitting some clusters, it is plausible that the massive black hole will be captured in an ultracompact dwarf forming near the center of the complex. In the process, the hole typically triggers electromagnetic flares via stellar disruptions, and is also likely to be a prominent source of gravitational radiation for the advanced ground-based detectors LIGO and VIRGO. We also discuss other implications of this scenario, notably that the central black hole could be considerably larger than expected in other formation scenarios for ultracompact dwarfs.
    11/2012;
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    ABSTRACT: Swift J1626.6-5156 is a Be/X-ray binary that was in outburst from December 2005 until November 2008. We have examined RXTE/PCA and HEXTE spectra of three long observations of this source taken early in its outburst, when the PCA 2-20 keV count rate was >70 counts/s/PCU, as well as several combined observations from different stages of the outburst. The spectra are best fit with an absorbed cutoff power law with a ~6.4 keV iron emission line and a Gaussian optical depth absorption line at ~10 keV. We present strong evidence that this absorption-like feature is a cyclotron resonance scattering feature, making Swift J1626.6-5156 a new candidate cyclotron line source. The redshifted energy of ~10 keV implies a magnetic field strength of ~8.6(1+z) x 10^11 G in the region of the accretion column close to the magnetic poles where the cyclotron line is produced. Analysis of phase averaged spectra spanning the duration of the outburst suggests a possible positive correlation between the fundamental cyclotron energy and source luminosity. Phase resolved spectroscopy from a long observation reveals a variable cyclotron line energy, with phase dependence similar to a variety of other pulsars, as well as the first harmonic of the fundamental cyclotron line.
    The Astrophysical Journal 11/2012; 762(1). · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    M. Coleman Miller, Melvyn B. Davies
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    ABSTRACT: Massive black holes have been discovered in all closely examined galaxies with high velocity dispersion. The case is not as clear for lower-dispersion systems such as low-mass galaxies and globular clusters. Here we suggest that above a critical velocity dispersion of roughly 40 km/s, massive central black holes will form in relaxed stellar systems at any cosmic epoch. This is because above this dispersion primordial binaries cannot support the system against deep core collapse. If, as previous simulations show, the black holes formed in the cluster settle to produce a dense subcluster, then given the extremely high densities reached during core collapse the holes will merge with each other. For low velocity dispersions and hence low cluster escape speeds, mergers will typically kick out all or all but one of the holes due to three-body kicks or the asymmetric emission of gravitational radiation. If one hole remains, it will tidally disrupt stars at a high rate. If none remain, one is formed after runaway collisions between stars, then it tidally disrupts stars at a high rate. The accretion rate after disruption is many orders of magnitude above Eddington. If, as several studies suggest, the hole can accept matter at that rate because the generated radiation is trapped and advected, then it will grow quickly and form a massive central black hole.
    The Astrophysical Journal 06/2012; 755(1). · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    M.coleman Miller, E. J. M.colbert
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    ABSTRACT: The mathematical simplicity of black holes, combined with their links to some of the most energetic events in the universe, means that black holes are key objects for fundamental physics and astrophysics. Until recently, it was generally believed that black holes in nature appear in two broad mass ranges: stellar-mass (M~3–20 M⊙), which are produced by the core collapse of massive stars, and supermassive (M~106–1010 M⊙), which are found in the centers of galaxies and are produced by a still uncertain combination of processes. In the last few years, however, evidence has accumulated for an intermediate-mass class of black holes, with M~102–104 M⊙. If such objects exist they have important implications for the dynamics of stellar clusters, the formation of supermassive black holes, and the production and detection of gravitational waves. We review the evidence for intermediate-mass black holes and discuss future observational and theoretical work that will help clarify numerous outstanding questions about these objects.
    International Journal of Modern Physics D 05/2012; 13(01). · 1.03 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Coalescing supermassive black hole binaries are produced by the mergers of galaxies and are the most powerful sources of gravitational waves accessible to space-based gravitational observatories. Some such mergers may occur in the presence of matter and magnetic fields and hence generate an electromagnetic counterpart. In this Letter, we present the first general relativistic simulations of magnetized plasma around merging supermassive black holes using the general relativistic magnetohydrodynamic code Whisky. By considering different magnetic field strengths, going from non-magnetically dominated to magnetically dominated regimes, we explore how magnetic fields affect the dynamics of the plasma and the possible emission of electromagnetic signals. In particular we observe a total amplification of the magnetic field of ~2 orders of magnitude which is driven by the accretion onto the binary and that leads to much stronger electromagnetic signals, more than a factor of 10^4 larger than comparable calculations done in the force-free regime where such amplifications are not possible.
    The Astrophysical Journal Letters 03/2012; 752. · 6.35 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: One of the main results of the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope is the discovery of γ-ray selected pulsars. The high magnetic field pulsar, PSR J0007+7303 in CTA1, was the first ever to be discovered through its γ-ray pulsations. Based on analysis of two years of Large Area Telescope (LAT) survey data, we report on the discovery of γ-ray emission in the off-pulse phase interval at the ~6σ level. The emission appears to be extended at the ~2σ level with a disk of extension ~06. level. The flux from this emission in the energy range E ≥ 100 MeV is F 100 = (1.73 ± 0.40stat ± 0.18sys) × 10–8 photons cm–2 s–1 and is best fitted by a power law with a photon index of Γ = 2.54 ± 0.14stat ± 0.05sys. The pulsed γ-ray flux in the same energy range is F 100 = (3.95 ± 0.07stat ± 0.30sys) × 10–7 photons cm–2 s–1 and is best fitted by an exponentially cutoff power-law spectrum with a photon index of Γ = 1.41 ± 0.23stat ± 0.03sys and a cutoff energy Ec = 4.04 ± 0.20stat ± 0.67sys GeV. We find no flux variability either at the 2009 May glitch or in the long-term behavior. We model the γ-ray light curve with two high-altitude emission models, the outer gap and slot gap, and find that the preferred model depends strongly on the assumed origin of the off-pulse emission. Both models favor a large angle between the magnetic axis and observer line of sight, consistent with the nondetection of radio emission being a geometrical effect. Finally, we discuss how the LAT results bear on the understanding of the cooling of this neutron star.
    The Astrophysical Journal 12/2011; 744(2):146. · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Recent studies have shown that gamma-ray pulsar light curves are very sensitive to the geometry of the pulsar magnetic field. Pulsar magnetic field geometries, such as the retarded vacuum dipole and force-free magnetospheres have distorted polar caps that are offset from the magnetic axis in the direction opposite to rotation. Since this effect is due to the sweepback of field lines near the light cylinder, offset polar caps are a generic property of pulsar magnetospheres and their effects should be included in gamma-ray pulsar light curve modeling. In slot gap models (having two-pole caustic geometry), the offset polar caps cause a strong azimuthal asymmetry of the particle acceleration around the magnetic axis. We have studied the effect of the offset polar caps in both retarded vacuum dipole and force-free geometry on the model high-energy pulse profiles. We find that, compared to the profiles derived from symmetric caps, the flux in the pulse peaks, which are caustics formed along the trailing magnetic field lines, increases significantly relative to the off-peak emission, formed along leading field lines. The enhanced contrast produces improved slot gap model fits to Fermi pulsar light curves like Vela, with vacuum dipole fits being more favorable.
    11/2011;
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    ABSTRACT: The high-quality Fermi LAT observations of gamma-ray pulsars have opened a new window to understanding the generation mechanisms of high-energy emission from these systems. The high statistics allow for careful modeling of the light curve features as well as for phase resolved spectral modeling. We modeled the LAT light curves of the Vela and CTA 1 pulsars with simulated high-energy light curves generated from geometrical representations of the outer gap and slot gap emission models, within the vacuum retarded dipole and force-free fields. A Markov Chain Monte Carlo maximum likelihood method was used to explore the phase space of the magnetic inclination angle, viewing angle, maximum emission radius, and gap width. We also used the measured spectral cutoff energies to estimate the accelerating parallel electric field dependence on radius, under the assumptions that the high-energy emission is dominated by curvature radiation and the geometry (radius of emission and minimum radius of curvature of the magnetic field lines) is determined by the best fitting light curves for each model. We find that light curves from the vacuum field more closely match the observed light curves and multiwavelength constraints, and that the calculated parallel electric field can place additional constraints on the emission geometry.
    11/2011;
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    ABSTRACT: Black holes exceeding a billion solar masses have been detected at redshifts greater than six. The rapid formation of these objects may suggest a massive early seed or a period of growth faster than Eddington. Here we suggest a new mechanism along these lines. We propose that in the process of hierarchical structure assembly, dense star clusters can be contracted on dynamical timescales due to the nearly free-fall inflow of self-gravitating gas with a mass comparable to or larger than that of the clusters. This process increases the velocity dispersion to the point where the few remaining hard binaries can no longer effectively heat the cluster, and the cluster goes into a period of homologous core collapse. The cluster core can then reach a central density high enough for fast mergers of stellar-mass black holes and hence the rapid production of a black hole seed that could be 105 M ☉ or larger.
    The Astrophysical Journal Letters 09/2011; 740(2):L42. · 6.35 Impact Factor
  • Megan E. DeCesar, Alice K. Harding, M. Coleman Miller
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    ABSTRACT: The high-quality Fermi LAT observations of gamma-ray pulsars open a new window to understanding the generation mechanisms of high-energy pulsar emission. To explore this, we have simulated high-energy light curves from geometrical representations of the outer gap and slot gap emission models with the vacuum retarded dipole magnetosphere model. These simulated light curves are compared with the LAT light curves of the Vela and Geminga pulsars via maximum likelihood, using a Markov Chain Monte Carlo method to explore the models’ phase space.
    08/2011;

Publication Stats

2k Citations
559.97 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2014
    • Los Alamos National Laboratory
      • Theoretical Division
      Los Alamos, California, United States
  • 2000–2014
    • University of Maryland, College Park
      • Department of Astronomy
      Maryland, United States
  • 2000–2009
    • Loyola University Maryland
      Baltimore, Maryland, United States
  • 1996–2009
    • University of Chicago
      • Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics
      Chicago, IL, United States
  • 1999–2008
    • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
      • Department of Physics
      Urbana, Illinois, United States