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Frank Schroeder has traveled to some of the most
remote locations on the planet to set up radio antennas to detect cosmic
rays, which are nature’s highest-energy particles. At right, he is
shown in Siberia with a research team from Germany and Russia prior to
his UD career.
Schroeder, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the
University of Delaware, has received the Sloan Research Fellowship, one
of the most competitive and prestigious awards available to researchers
in the U.S. and Canada early in their careers.
“A Sloan Research Fellow is a rising star, plain and simple” said
Adam F. Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “To receive a
Fellowship is to be told by the scientific community that your
achievements as a young scholar are already driving the research
Schroeder, who joined the UD faculty in 2018, will use the two-year,
$75,000 fellowship to continue his research on a galactic mystery. He
wants to uncover the origins of cosmic rays — nature’s highest-energy
particles, which hurtle through space at nearly the speed of light. His
quest has taken him to some of the most remote locations on Earth,
including Siberia and the South Pole, to set up scientific instruments
to detect these powerful particles.
“Frank is clearly destined to be a future leader in the important
field of astroparticle physics and, in many notable ways, has already
achieved that status,” said Jamie Holder, professor in the UD Department of Physics and Astronomy and director of the Bartol Research Institute, in his letter nominating Schroeder for the fellowship.
As Holder explained, scientists are able to study cosmic rays from
the ground, thanks to the particle showers that occur when they interact
in Earth’s atmosphere. These cascades of particles produce different
types of electromagnetic radiation, including in the radio region of the
spectrum. Although this radio emission was discovered over 50 years
ago, early attempts to use it as a tool for detecting cosmic rays
suffered from the limitations of the analog electronics available at
“Frank has been at the forefront of recent efforts to revisit radio
detection using modern digital electronics and signal processing
techniques,” Holder said. “He has shown definitively that radio provides
a powerful new tool to study cosmic rays, and that the information it
provides complements and enhances existing methods.”
Schroeder’s research already has sparked the installation of radio
antennas and other upgrades that are now in progress at major cosmic ray
observatories such as the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina and IceCube at the South Pole, where he is a leading research contributor.
Previously, Schroeder led a collaboration of German and Russian
scientists in constructing an array of radio detectors in Siberia. Their
successful Tunka-Rex experiment provided evidence that arrays of radio
antennas can measure the depth at which the cosmic-ray particle showers
develop in the atmosphere. This is a key parameter for measuring the
mass composition of cosmic rays and for testing scenarios of their
origin. Schroeder was awarded the 2017 Young Scientist Prize from the
International Union of Pure and Applied Physics Commission on
Astroparticle Physics for this work.
Since joining UD, Schroeder has won a major grant from the European
Research Council and is a co-investigator on an Established Program to
Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) project, involving scientists
from Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota in
developing big data applications for analyzing the massive amounts of
data from astroparticle observatories, such as IceCube.
Honoring “extraordinary U.S. and Canadian researchers whose
creativity, innovation and research accomplishments make them stand out
as the next generation of scientific leaders,” the Sloan Research
Fellowship is open to scholars in eight scientific and technical fields —
chemistry, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, computer
science, Earth system science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience and
The fellowships are awarded in close coordination with the scientific
community. Candidates must be nominated by their fellow scientists, and
winners are selected by independent panels of senior scholars on the
basis of a candidate’s research accomplishments, creativity and
potential to become a leader in his or her field. More than 1,000
researchers are nominated each year for 128 fellowship slots.
Schroeder is the eighth UD faculty member to receive the honor since the first Sloan Research Fellowships were awarded in 1955.
Article by Tracey Bryant; photos courtesy of Frank Schroeder; photo illustration by David Barczak
Published Feb. 16, 2021
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