Thomas E. Oberst, Associate Professor of Physics; Director, Planetarium and Observatory, Westminster College
Dr. Thomas E. Oberst is an associate professor of physics at Westminster College, as well as director of the College's Planetarium and Observatory, which houses the telescope he uses in the hunt for exoplanets, planets beyond our own solar system orbiting a star other than the sun.
Exemplifying the Duquesne ideal that faculty members should be teachers as well as scholars, Oberst relishes the time he spends with students. Though fieldwork is important for his research, Oberst finds that research activities with students on campus is equally fulfilling. Oberst and his students collaborate with a consortium of about 20 institutions, headed by teams of astronomers at Ohio State, Vanderbilt and Lehigh universities, and including a network of smaller institutions and amateur astronomers. In less than two years, Oberst and his students have co-discovered five planets.
"I've purposely arranged things so I can do my research from our campus observatory. That keeps me from going into the field and it also gives undergraduate students access to frontline research opportunities right here on campus, which is a real benefit to them," says Oberst.
Oberst credits undergraduate research opportunities at Duquesne- co-authoring three articles published in scientific journals before earning his bachelor's degree- as the critical factor for developing his skills as a scientist and establishing the credentials upon which he launched his career. Oberst attended graduate school at Cornell University, where fieldwork in astronomy nurtured a second major research interest: investigating stellar nurseries, environments in the cosmos where stars are born. His research led him to observe the sky from world-class telescopes at the South Pole and on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. As a professor, his highest reward comes in the form of helping non-science majors fall in love with astronomy and become "lifelong stargazers."