U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science Office of Scientific and Technical Information

DOE Physicists at Work - Dr. Peter Nugent

DOE Physicists at Work Archive


DOE Office of Science celebrates 2005 World Year of Physics

 

DOE Physicists at Work

 

Profiles of representative DOE-sponsored physicists
doing research at universities and national laboratories

 

Compiled by the Office of Scientific and Technical Information

Dr. Peter Nugent


Have you ever looked up at the night sky and wondered where we came from and where we are going?  "As it turns out, supernovae - the explosive death knell of some types of stars - go a long way in providing us with the answers to these questions," says Dr. Peter Nugent, staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  "As Carl Sagan said, 'We are made of star stuff.'  Everything, from the calcium in our bones, the iron in our skyscrapers even the gold used in our jewelry, was the product of the evolution of a star that eventually exploded as a supernova," continues Dr. Nugent.  "How it got to us in the amounts that we see is one of the questions I have always wanted to answer."

 

Dr. Peter Nugent

When he was 12, his grandfather gave him a telescope.  "It was one of those gifts that you don't think much of at the time you get it - nothing that indicated a life-changing moment," says Dr. Nugent.  After two months of going out on every clear night, he was hooked.  "Astronomy was going to be a hobby for life.  As for a profession, well I never thought of it in that way.  It was fun, a challenge, and I could learn something new every time I went outside.  Later in life I realized that any job I wanted to pursue would have to have two ingredients for me to be happy - it would have to be fun and it would have to be a challenge.  My parents knew from the start.  I was always one of those kids that kept asking, 'Why?' Physics, as it turns out, is the best subject to study if you want to know - or struggle to find - the answer to the question, 'Why?'"

 

As he approached college, he found that he had two possibilities for majors.  "I loved reading, so English was a natural major, and physics and math came easy to me," says Dr. Nugent.  But English proved too difficult.  "I loved the reading and writing - it was the re-writing that killed me.  Physics, on the other hand, was something that just came naturally to me, and unlike many of the other sciences, it required minimal memorization.  You learned a topic, applied common sense and math, and you could get the answer to your problems."

 

Dr. Nugent arrived at Berkeley Lab for his first postdoctoral study with Saul Perlmutter's Supernova Cosmology Project in 1996.  "My education at University of Oklahoma prepared me as a theoretical astrophysicist, with no more experience with a telescope than I had when I was 12," says Dr. Nugent.  "I was their in-house theorist, hoping to help them out wherever they needed it."

 

But after a couple of weeks, his mentor noted that the team was short on observers.  "Saul asked me to go to the 4-meter Victor Blanco telescope in Chile to help take images in their search for high-redshift supernovae," says Dr. Nugent.  "This was the first time since I had left college that I was going to use a telescope, and it was going to be a switch from a 12-inch scope to one more than 10-times as large."

 

When the first image came off the telescope, he was saddled with the task of looking at the stars and testing the focus.  "I thought the focus wasn't good until I realized that all the faint, elongated, smudges on the screen weren't stars but galaxies!  While you read in textbooks that there are as many galaxies in the observable universe as stars in the Milky Way, this was the first time it hit me.  Once again I was hooked, but this time it was my job and I could use the biggest and best telescopes in the world."

 

Since then, Dr. Nugent has made an effort to combine theoretical work with observational studies.  "It has paid off well, as I am one of the few in my field who have the opportunity to both observe what I study and later run large computer simulations of these events as well," says Dr. Nugent.  "My hobby became my profession - it is both fun and challenging, and I get to work on answering the question, 'Why?' almost every day."

 

Dr. Nugent is the recipient of several honors and awards, including the DOE's Big Splash computational award in 2002-2003. Nugent has presented his work as a participant on NASA's Space Science Update program, CNN, NOVA, NPR, and the BBC. His work has been featured in Time, Newsweek, Science, and Nature.

 

Dr. Peter Nugent's Web site

 

Dr. Peter Nugent's articles accessed via OSTI:

 

Information Bridge

 

National facility for advanced computational science: A sustainable path to scientific discovery 

 

An integral field spectrograph for SNAP supernova studies Overview of the nearby supernova factory

 

The SNAP near infrared detectors

 

Energy Citations Database

 

Science-driven system architecture: A new process for leadership class computing

 

Weak Lensing from Space I: Instrumentation and Survey Strategy

 

A one-meter aperture wide-field camera for the Japanese exposure module on space station

 

E-print Network

 

Spectroscopic Observations and Analysis of the Unusual Type Ia SN 1999ac

 

On the Afterglow and Host Galaxy of GRB021004: A Comprehensive Study with the Hubble Space Telescope

 

A Definitive Measurement of Time Dilation in the Spectral Evolution of the Moderate-Redshift Type Ia Supernova 1997ex

 

Restframe I-band Hubble diagram for type Ia supernovae up to redshift z ~0.5

 

A possible bright blue SN in the afterglow of GRB 020305

 

Spectroscopic confirmation of high-redshift supernovae with the ESO VLT

 

Type IIP Supernovae as Cosmological Probes: A SEAM Distance to SN 1999em

 

Early Spectra of Supernovae

 

Discovery of a Transient U-band Dropout in a Lyman-Break Survey: A Tidally-Disrupted Star at z = 3.3?

 

Supernova / Acceleration Probe: A Satellite Experiment to Study the Nature of the Dark Energy

 

Spectroscopic Observations and Analysis of the Peculiar SN 1999aa

 

GRB 020410: A Gamma-Ray Burst Afterglow Discovered by its Supernova Light

 

The Nearby Supernova Factory

 

Optical and Infrared Photometry of the Nearby Type Ia Supernovae 1999ee, 2000bh, 2000ca, and 2001ba

 

Could There Be A Hole In Type Ia Supernovae?

 

New Constraints on $\Omega_M$, $\Omega_\Lambda$, and w from an Independent Set of Eleven High-Redshift Supernovae Observed with HST

 

The intrinsic colour dispersion in Type Ia supernovae

 

Spectropolarimetry of SN 2001el in NGC 1448: Asphericity of a Normal Type Ia Supernova

 

Analysis of the Flux and Polarization Spectra of the Type Ia Supernova SN 2001el: Exploring the Geometry of the High-velocity Ejecta

 

Determination of Primordial Metallicity and Mixing in the Type IIP Supernova 1993W

 

The Hubble Diagram of Type Ia Supernovae as a Function of Host Galaxy Morphology

 

Infrared Light Curves of Type Ia Supernovae

 

The Type Ia Supernova 1999aw: a Probable 1999aa-like Event In a Low-Luminosity Host Galaxy

 

Cosmological parameters from lensed supernovae

 

The magnification of SN 1997ff, the farthest known Supernova

 

The distant Type Ia supernova rate

 

K-corrections and Extinction Corrections for Type Ia Supernovae

 

Detailed Spectroscopic Analysis of SN 1987A: The Distance to the LMC using the SEAM method

 

Photon vs Energy Magnitude Systems and the Measurement of the Cosmological Parameters

 

Coping with Type Ia Supernova "Evolution" When Probing the Nature of the Dark Energy

 

The Farthest Known Supernova: Support for an Accelerating Universe and a Glimpse of the Epoch of Deceleration

 

Timescale Stretch Parameterization of Type Ia Supernova B-band Light Curves

 

Cosmological-Model-Parameter Determination from Satellite-Acquired Type Ia and IIP Supernova Data

 

A strategy for finding gravitationally-lensed distant supernovae

 

The Rise Times of High and Low Redshift Type Ia Supernovae are Consistent

 

Metallicity Effects in NLTE Model Atmospheres of Type Ia Supernovae

 

High Redshift Supernovae in the Hubble Deep Field

 

Cosmology from Type Ia Supernovae

 

Measurements of Omega and Lambda from 42 High-Redshift Supernovae

 

Snapshot Distances to Type Ia Supernovae -- All in ``One'' Night's Work

 

Discovery of a Supernova Explosion at Half the Age of the Universe and its Cosmological Implications

 

Synthetic Spectra of Hydrodynamic Models of Type Ia Supernovae

 

NLTE Effects in Modeling of Supernovae near Maximum Light

 

Low Hubble Constant from Type Ia Supernovae by van den Bergh's Method

 

Type Ia Supernovae as Extragalactic Distance Indicators

 

Evidence for a Spectroscopic Sequence Among SNe Ia