Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Welcomes New Astronomy Faculty

January 26, 2024

Victor Robles, Ph.D. and Yong Zheng, Ph.D.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students interested in exploring the cosmos and learning about the universe’s origins have two new faculty members with whom to learn and conduct research. This year, Rensselaer’s Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy welcomed Yong Zheng, Ph.D., and Victor Robles, Ph.D., as assistant professors.

Zheng studies the cosmic ecosystem that connects a galaxy, its circumgalactic medium (CGM), and the vast intergalactic medium. 

Before joining Rensselaer, Zheng was a Miller Postdoctoral Fellow at Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science, U.C. Berkeley. She earned her Ph.D. in 2018 from Columbia University and her bachelor’s degree in 2012 from Peking University in China.

Today, Zheng’s research is focused on constructing a coherent picture of how baryons are cycled and recycled between galaxies and their surrounding environments. She uses high-resolution spectroscopy and numerical simulations extensively.

As a professor and scientist, Zheng is committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging among her students and colleagues. She has had many role models who have encouraged, supported, and inspired her to pursue her science ambitions. She strives to do the same for future generations.

Robles produces cosmological simulations of the formation of galaxies and compares them with observations. In particular, he compares the properties of galaxies that would form with different assumptions about the properties of dark matter. Dark matter is believed to comprise 85% of the mass of galaxies, but we do not know what the properties of these as-yet-undiscovered particles are.

Robles was an associate research scientist at Yale University prior to joining Rensselaer. He earned his Ph.D. and master’s degrees from the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (CINVESTAV-IPN) and his bachelor’s degree from the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico.

Robles is investigating the nature of dark matter by adjusting the physics in the simulations of the formation of galaxies to make the results match actual galaxy structure. He writes the physics code for dark matter in a larger Feedback in Realistic Environments (FIRE) hydrodynamic simulation environment that is used by about 100 astronomers. He has a long list of contributed and invited talks all over the world.

Dark matter is the dominant mass component in the universe, so it is important to discover its nature. Robles’ research aims are to unravel the nature of dark matter, study its effects on the evolution and formation of galaxies, and understand how our own Milky Way and nearby galaxies formed.

“We are thrilled to enhance Rensselaer’s Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy Department with the addition of these two new, esteemed faculty members,” said Gyorgy Korniss, Ph.D., department head. “I look forward to their contributions to our academic and research community, and I’m sure their work will inspire our students.”


Written By Katie Malatino
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