Dr. Amy Furniss
Dr. Amy Furniss

About Amy

Amy was born in Northern California in the mountains outside of Arcata and attended Kneeland Elementary school, a tiny 36 person K-8th school.  Her interest in physics only became apparent after a high school physics class where Weldon Benzinger piqued her interest in the subject through interactive lectures.  After high school, she went on to recieve her B.S. in Physics at Humboldt State University.  While at HSU she enjoyed the small class sizes and accelerated science courses.  She worked with Dr. David Kornreich and the ALFALFA team at Cornell University to survey the 21 cm sky with the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico.  During this research project, she traveled to Puerto Rico to see the telescope (the largest in the world) and discovered an uncatalogued galaxy, now referred to as AGC 193784. After a year break following the receipt of her undergraduate degree, she moved to Santa Cruz, CA.  At University of California in Santa Cruz she recieved her M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics working with Dr. David A. Williams and the VERITAS Collaboration to understand the very high energy gamma-ray emission from extreme galaxies.  Endeavoring to constrain the distances of various extreme gamma-ray blazars, she discovered that the bright gamma-ray blazar PKS 1424+240 was the most distant gamma-ray blazar detected by gamma-ray instruments such as VERITAS.  After the completion of her Ph.D., Amy continues her research at Stanford University.  She currently spends her time as the leader of the VERITAS Blazar Working Group, organizing coordinated observation campaigns on extreme gamma-ray blazars.  The observation campaigns often include gamma-ray observations by the Fermi Large Area Telescope, X-ray observations by the NASA Swift and NuSTAR telescopes, optical observations from various ground-based instruments as well as multi-orbit pointed observations with the Hubble Space Telescope.

Astrophysical Gamma Rays

Because it is very difficult to produce gamma-rays, the objects that emit them are very interesting to astrophysicists. High-energy gamma rays are associated with exploding stars (supernovae), pulsars , quasars , and black holes rather than with ordinary stars or galaxies.



The emission of high-energy gamma-rays from cosmic objects always implies the presence of exotic and extreme physical conditions - high magnetic and electric fields, shock waves, cataclysmic explosions, etc. In fact, this emission offers the only direct probe of the extreme conditions in these exciting phenomena.  


Extreme Gamma-ray Blazars

Blazars are one of the most violently variable astrophysical sources, exhibiting energetic particle processes far beyond that attainable by terrestrial accelerators. These extreme galaxies are understood to be active galactic nuclei, powered by accretion onto supermassive black holes and producing relativistic jets which are pointed within a few degrees of our line of sight.



A number of blazars have been found to emit very high energy photons and are the most commonly detected extragalactic source at very high energy.  Many fundamental questions regarding how these sources emit gamma-rays is yet to be understood.

Extragalactic Background Light

In observational cosmology the background radiation fields that surround us provide invaluable insight into the history of our Universe. A prominent

example of such a radiation field is the 2.7K thermal afterglow of the Big Bang, the cosmic microwave background. At shorter wavelengths, from the ultravioletto the far-infrared, the extragalactic background light (EBL) consists of the accumulated and reprocessed radiation of all starlight produced thus far. Direct measurements of the EBL are difficult due to light pollution by the solar system and the Galaxy.  These challenges can be overcome when absorption of gamma rays from distant sources is used to probe the EBL. Gamma rays that propagate through the intergalactic medium are absorbed by low energy EBL photons via pair production.

“...by observing with the vast panoply of sensors now available, they can see the processes in many different lights and hence thoroughly explore the phenomenon."  -T. C. Weekes

VERITAS (Very Energetic Imaging Telescope Array System) is a ground-based gamma-ray instrument operating at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory (FLWO) in southern Arizona, USA.   It is an array of four 12m optical reflectors for gamma-rays in the GeV - TeV energy range. These imaging Cherenkov telescopes are deployed such that they have the highest sensitivity in the VHE energy band (50 GeV - 50 TeV), with maximum sensitivity from 100 GeV to 10 TeV. 


More information ----> http://veritas.sao.arizona.edu/

The Large Area Telescope (LAT) is the principal scientific instrument on the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope spacecraft.  The LAT is an imaging high-energy gamma-ray telescope covering the energy range from about 20 MeV to more than 300 GeV.  The LAT scans the sky continuously, covering the whole sky every three hours.


More information about the instrument----> https://www-glast.stanford.edu/

The NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) mission has deployed the first orbiting telescopes to focus high energy X-rays (3 - 79 keV).  The instrument consists of two co-aligned grazing incidence telescopes with specially coated optics and newly developed detectors.


More information about the instrument ----> http://www.nustar.caltech.edu/

Swift is a first-of-its-kind multi-wavelength observatory dedicated to the study of gamma-ray burst (GRB) science. Its three instruments work together to observe transient events in the gamma-ray, X-ray, ultraviolet, and optical wavebands.   The spacecraft "swiftly" (in less than approximately 90 seconds) and autonomously repoints itself to bring a transient event location within the field of view of the sensitive narrow-field X-ray and UV/optical telescopes to observe the afterglow. 


More information about the NASA Swift satellite----> http://swift.gsfc.nasa.gov/

Hubble, a telescope that was launched in 1990, orbits Earth. Its position above the atmosphere gives it a view of the universe that typically far surpasses that of ground-based telescopes. The instrument represents one of NASA's most successful and long-lasting science missions. It has beamed hundreds of thousands of images back to Earth, shedding light on many of the great mysteries of astronomy. Its gaze has helped determine the age of the universe, the identity of quasars, and the existence of dark energy.


More information ----> http://hubblesite.org/the_telescope/

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© Dr. Amy Furniss, Ph.D.