From studying the scale of the universe to inspiring students across the globe, SUNY Oswego physics professor Shashi Kanbur’s far-reaching efforts earned the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities.
“Dr. Kanbur brings excellence into the classroom where he inspires students by serving as a role model for high achievement through innovation and hard work,” SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley wrote in support of the award. “Throughout his career at SUNY Oswego, Dr. Kanbur has been extraordinarily productive with regard to his scholarly work, presenting his research locally, nationally, and internationally.”
Kanbur’s primary area of research involves trying to determine the size and age of the universe through measuring pulsating stars. In his 25 years of work on this question, Kanbur and co-authors -- including Oswego undergraduates -- from around the world have published nearly 50 papers in high-impact journals and presented at conferences across the globe.
“Prof. Kanbur is a prolific scholar who has published his research findings in prominent journals, has regularly mentored students at SUNY Oswego, attended local, national and international conferences, maintained a strong network of international collaborations and attracted significant research funding to SUNY Oswego,” wrote nominator Mohammad Islam, who chairs Oswego’s physics department.
Ongoing collaborations connect Kanbur and his students with scholars in Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Taiwan and the United Kingdom, Islam noted. Kanbur has earned the Chretein Award from the American Astronomical Society.
“He has brought in approximately $1.7 million in external funds to SUNY Oswego in a mix of initiatives focused on his area of scholarship and on undergraduate STEM education,” wrote Kristin Croyle, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Kanbur also has mentored more than 50 students, “including several who have progressed to Ph.D.s, postdoctoral fellowships and leading industry positions,” Croyle said, adding that “15 of his undergraduate students have co-authored peer-reviewed papers with him. His scholarship is not only strengthening the field of astrophysics through new contributions, but is also building the strength of the field through encouragement and mentoring of promising new scholars.”
With his astronomy research connecting beyond borders, Kanbur received letters of recommendations from top scholars around the globe -- but perhaps the most meaningful words came from Oswego alumni propelled to success from Kanbur’s efforts.
Oswego alumnus Earl Bellinger now works at the Stellar Astrophysics Centre in Aarhus University’s department of physics and astronomy in Denmark. He is one of many students who wrote letters on how Kanbur’s passion and generosity launched them into ambitious and rewarding careers. “He is extremely supportive of his students and provides them every possible opportunity,” Bellinger wrote.
Bellinger’s collaboration with Kanbur started as a freshman working on automating a robotic telescope for the National Laboratory for Astrophysics in Brazil. Working on international projects and visiting Brazil opened new worlds to him.
“Experiencing new cultures and also getting to participate in cutting-edge international research profoundly influenced the path I decided to take in life,” Bellinger said. “Thanks to Shashi’s guidance, I am now a postdoctoral research fellow and have worked in 11 research labs across 6 different countries.”
While an Oswego undergraduate, Brent Meerdink, who hails from Rome and is now a physics Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia, had the opportunity to collaborate on advanced astrophysics research in a partnership that included Yale University and the University of Delhi in India, an institution he was able to visit and with whose researcher he co-authored articles in top journals.
“Through Dr. Kanbur’s dedication and passion for excellence in physics, mathematics, and astrophysics, he has enabled his students to achieve their ultimate research goals,” Meerdink wrote. “Dr. Kanbur sets a tremendous example of dedication and passion in his academic, professional, and collegial relationships. He goes above and beyond for his students, mentees and colleagues, always willing and available to give advice, guidance and help.”
“When I first met Shashi, I was a wide-eyed high school senior, visiting SUNY Oswego after being offered admission,” wrote Oswego alumnus Daniel Wysocki, who later earned his Ph.D. and now works with a leading research group at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “My dream was to become an astrophysicist. Seeing the cutting-edge research students were carrying out under Shashi’s supervision, I knew Oswego was the place for me.”
Kanbur’s mentorship led to an internship at NASA and research projects in Taiwan and India studying various aspects of variable stars. “Looking back a decade later as a professional astrophysicist, I know Oswego was the right choice, and that Shashi set me on a trajectory of success,” Wysocki said.
Dedication to students
Similarly, 2017 graduate Kenny Roffo, now a software engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, discovered his path in life meeting Kanbur at an admissions event.
“He was excited to meet me, a prospective student of physics, and after a fantastic introductory conversation, he took me to the physics lab, where we performed a reproduction of one of the greatest experiments in physics, Young’s Double-Slit Experiment,” Roffo wrote. “I had read about this experiment in school, but to see it in person, with a professor who was so clearly just as enthused as I was, was exhilarating.”
After an internship and co-op with NASA’s JPL and research internships in India and Germany -- the latter under Bellinger -- Roffo came to realize “I had achieved so much that I used to think was impossible,” he wrote. “When I met Dr. Kanbur in 2011, he inspired me, and made me believe that I could achieve greatness. There is no question that on this promise, he certainly did deliver, and I fully believe that if it were not for Dr. Kanbur I would not be where I am today.”
Gregory Fieden, an Oswego alumnus who later earned his Ph.D. and teaches astronomy at the University of North Georgia, said he models his teaching, research and mentorship on his lessons from Kanbur, who he also noted as “a respected voice in the astrophysics community” whose expertise is among the best in the world.
“Shashi’s record as a leading scholar in the astrophysics community is meritorious,” Fieden wrote. “More importantly, however, is that Shashi is fully committed to his role as a professor, advisor, and mentor at SUNY Oswego. He shows an unmatched dedication to his students, their learning, and their career success.”
Daniel Jacob Crain, who earned his Ph.D. from Clarkson after his Oswego degree, is now a senior process engineer at Intel Corporation, which he owes to opportunities Kanbur presented.
“Without Dr. Kanbur’s fervent pursuit of research opportunities I and many other students would have been unable to grow their education beyond the normal bounds of undergraduate studies,” Crain wrote. “Shashi’s door seemed to be always open when I stopped by to ask questions. Discussing the topic at hand with cheer and kindness, fostering an open discussion, that furthered my mastery of subjects.”
While directing Oswego’s Global Laboratory program, Kanbur helped facilitate summer internships for more than 200 students in Taiwan, Brazil, Europe, India and Africa.
In addition, Kanbur has mentored Ph.D. students in India and supported studies of scholars around the world who share his passion for exploring the secrets of the universe.
He earned his Ph.D in astrophysics, as well as his bachelor’s in mathematics and astronomy, from the University of London. Between those degrees, Kanbur received a master’s in mathematical statistics from Stanford University and a diploma of mathematical statistics from the University of Cambridge.
Kanbur is also a lifelong learner in another of his passions -- playing jazz saxophone. Notably “at the height of his professional career, Shashi chose to become a beginner again,” wrote music faculty member Eric Schmitz. Kanbur has sat in with the faculty-led Oswego Jazz Project, humbly joined the Oswego State Jazz Ensemble big band and plays open mics around Central New York. “It has been inspiring to hear his progress and engage with his increasing curiosity in all things saxophone- and jazz-related,” Schmitz added.