Here at the College of Sciences and Humanities, we love to highlight the new faculty members joining our team. Dr. Todd Vaccaro is a new Assistant Professor of the Physics and Astronomy department. The following interview discusses what brought him to Ball State, his research focus, and his passion for gaming.
What is your journey to Ball State?
After several postdoc positions (LSU, UF, FL Tech) I had two non-tenure-track positions, one at Francis Marion University in SC and then St. Cloud State University (SCSU) in MN before coming to BSU.
Several factors brought me to BSU: A strong astronomy program with access to telescopes both on campus and in the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy consortium (SARA, which operates 3 1-meter class telescopes in AZ, Chile, and the Canary Islands), a world-class planetarium, and an astronomy major and graduate program that allows me to work with students at both the intro and upper levels. All of these tools along with engaged students and supportive faculty make for an enriching environment for teaching, research, and community outreach, which is the perfect balance for my ideal career.
What is your research focus?
I study binary and variable stars, mostly low mass or solar-type stars that are in short orbital period systems. I obtain observations from national observatories or archival data from various missions like the Kepler space telescope and then do the analysis along with computer modeling of the systems to better understand their physical properties, activities, and evolution. I am currently using SARA to collect new data and getting students involved in the process. An on-going collaboration I brought with me from SCSU involves a NASA grant (through the University of Southern California) that works with Kepler data and our own observations to explore interesting binary stars that may be transferring mass between them. Another more recent collaboration is with astronomers in Australia who obtained some data for me with the Siding Spring 2.3 meter telescope located in New South Wales, Australia.
What are some of your goals for the first year here?
As you can see from my vibrant research work I’m excited to be working with collaborators and students and it’s all happening in my first year, so I’ve hit the ground running. I am also getting students involved in building a radio antenna array that works with a global project called “Radio Jove”, which will allow us to observe radio signals that come from Jupiter’s magnetic field as well as sources from the center of the galaxy and solar activity. They are building the antennae this semester and hope to have it tested in March. This will expand BSU’s observatory capabilities going forward.
What are some of your hobbies/non-academic interests?
Astronomy is still my hobby, which makes my job amazing, but I love following hockey and football for sports. I brew beer and mead. I also love gaming, both video games and tabletop role-playing games. I was a gaming club adviser at my previous institutions.
Interested in learning more about our Physics and Astronomy? Check out our blog post highlighting the award and demonstrations of the Society of Physics Students. Click here to see all of our posts introducing new CSH faculty.