Professor Helping Solve NASA's Big Questions

Jun. 6, 2014 - by Kelly Chesley

Andrew Overholt

Professor Helping Solve NASA's Big Questions

 
by Carol (Knight '81, MA '08) Best

Andrew Overholt, PhD, assistant professor of physics, may be one of MNU’s youngest professors, but he’s already making his mark in scientific research. Overholt was recently awarded part of a $500,000 NASA Exobiology grant. Yes, that’s NASA as in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 

Overholt conducts research with University of Kansas Professor Adrian Melott, PhD, and Brian Thomas, PhD, of Washburn University in a group they call the KU Astrophysics Biology Working Group. The group will receive NASA funding over three years to study the “Terrestrial Impact of Nearby Supernovae.” MNU’s portion of the grant is $150,000 and will be used to support the research, obtain additional computer equipment and fund a student research assistant. 

“This is the kind of research we encourage our students to seek out over the summer at other research facilities,” Overholt says. “It is exciting to get to have it here at MNU for a top science student. This gives them a distinct edge over students in similar programs at other institutions.”

The new research is in an “untouched area,” according to Overholt.

“No one has studied all of the effects on Earth from a nearby supernova,” he says. “Nearby in this instance would be about 10 parsecs or 30 light years.”

A supernova occurs when a star collapses at the end of its lifecycle, causing it to heat up and explode. Overholt says this happens frequently because there are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy. But statistically it rarely occurs close to Earth. A recent study shows that Earth has experienced a nearby supernova in the distant past. 

The professors each will study separate aspects of supernova effects. Overholt will study cosmic ray secondaries, high energy pieces of matter that can cause radiation sickness and cancer. The research is conducted using computer modeling, requiring data analysis by supercomputers such as the National Science Foundation’s TeraGrid, a cyber infrastructure of high-performance computers at 11 locations nationwide.  

The colleagues hope to learn how bad a worst-case scenario would be, if a nearby supernova is survivable, how close it could be and still be survivable, as well as effects on other planets with thinner atmospheres. 

“This is an unanswered question,” Overholt says. “We know these happen and statistically they should occur near us, but no one knows what would happen on Earth if there was a nearby supernova.”

Supernova IconWhile Overholt is passionate about his research, he is even more passionate about teaching at MNU.

“At a large university students would be in class with 300 other students,” Overholt says. “At MNU I get to talk with them about everything: life, paleontology, geology, chemistry, and more. Here, I get to know my students and come alongside them in the learning process in a way I would never be able to at other universities.”

As a 2005 alumnus of Southern Nazarene University, he’s particularly attuned to the integration of faith and learning that makes Christian universities special. 

“There doesn’t need to be a competition between faith and science,” he says. “Physics helps me see so many parallels between God’s amazing creation and His own nature. I want my students to appreciate that Christianity and science cooperate. I am blessed to play a part in developing that appreciation.”

 
 

MNU News

Sunday, January 22
Recent News
List
Grid
Archives
IMG 4417
MLK Living Legacy Award to Rev. Marvin Daniels

MLK Living Legacy Award to Rev. Marvin Daniels

Rev. Marvin Daniels, executive director of The Hope Center of Kansas City, was honored with MNU's Martin Luther King Jr. Living Legacy Award…

Read More
Open House Pic
Accelerated and Graduate Programs Host Open House

Accelerated and Graduate Programs Host Open House

The School of Professional and Graduate Studies is hosting open houses at its Liberty and Olathe locations. WEDNESDAY, February 22    …

Read More
Gragg Fred Kris
Grads Find Good Fit In Marketing

Grads Find Good Fit In Marketing

College prepares you for life and when life happens, it’s good to know that you have choices. The job market was less than desirable when Kris Ratzlaff  (‘06, MBA ’10) graduated with his…

Read More
MNUArchLogo-Newsroom
Transitions in MNU Athletic Leadership

Transitions in MNU Athletic Leadership

MNU president David Spittal has announced the resignation of Director of Athletics Kevin Steele effective January 2, 2017. Steele, who has held his current position since 2008, resigned to accept a…

Read More
IMG 8744 edited
Auctioneers Give Back

Auctioneers Give Back

Dave Webb and Kevin Borger have a lot in common. They are both auctioneers, they both attended MNU and together they recently gave the university a significant gift that will support student…

Read More
2017MLK-newsimage
Join MNU for Jan. 17 MLK Celebration

Join MNU for Jan. 17 MLK Celebration

The 11th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration at MidAmerica Nazarene University will be held Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, at 9:30 a.m., at College Church of the Nazarene at 2020 E. Sheridan…

Read More
Straley-5
Alum Mixes Faith and Forensic Science

Alum Mixes Faith and Forensic Science

When forensic science comes to mind, scenes from CSI and NCIS may flash before your eyes. What you might not think about is one’s faith. But 2015 alum Hannah Straley has figured out how to balance…

Read More
GivingTuesday IG-firstphoto
Today is MNU Giving Tuesday

Today is MNU Giving Tuesday

Today is Giving Tuesday, the global day of giving fueled by social media and the collective support of millions. MNU’s goal is to reach 500 donations today and here’s how you can participate. All…

Read More
Spittal Official Headshot 2012 small edited
Spittal Elected to Second Five-Year Term at MNU

Spittal Elected to Second Five-Year Term at MNU

MidAmerica Nazarene University’s Board of Trustees unanimously passed a renewal vote for a five-year term of its fifth president, Dr. David J.…

Read More
Sports
Mustangs Handle Pioneers

Mustangs Handle Pioneers

The Pioneers jumped out to an 8-2 lead, but trailed by double digits most of the game in a 95-83 home loss to Mount Mercy on Saturday...(click title for more)

 
Pioneers Fall in Final Second

Pioneers Fall in Final Second

OLATHE, Kan. - MNU overcame a 14-point deficit and had a 3-point lead in the closing seconds, but Mt. Mercy pulled off the miracle finish to beat the Pioneers 58-57 on Saturday...(click title for more)

 
Devan Sawyerr 200m Nation Leading Mark Helps Lead Pioneers' National Efforts

Devan Sawyerr 200m Nation Leading Mark Helps Lead Pioneers' National Efforts

Devan Sawyerr, in his first 200m indoor race of his career, opened up with a national leading mark at Missouri this Friday. His efforts were backed by a host of top 30 national marks in the NAIA from his teammates...(click title for more) Results here

 
Latest Photos
Men's Basketball
Basketball
Dorm Christmas Party
Dorm Christmas Party
Dorm Christmas Party
Olathe Mayor's Christmas Tree Lighting