- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2017

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) - Northern Arizona University is offering a doctorate program in astronomy that took decades of work to get underway and shows a new emphasis on research, the head of the department said.

The addition will build the university’s reputation in research, physics and astronomy department chairman Stephen Tegler said. Students will have access to the university observatory, labs and nearby Lowell Observatory, the Arizona Daily Sun newspaper in Flagstaff reported (http://bit.ly/2jnQyFr ).

“This will be a huge expansion of the department,” Tegler said. “We are hiring five new faculty members, which will give both graduates and undergraduates more opportunity to work on research.”

The program makes the school competitive for grant funding and allows students to work on their own projects, program coordinator and professor David Trilling said.

“Astronomy is very significant in Arizona, and more astronomy research and student training in this state just means more opportunities, more prominence, and, not incidentally, more economic growth,” Trilling said in an email.

Four students have enrolled so far, and Trilling says the goal is to grow the program to 25 students.

“They will have a strong, hopefully positive influence on the personality of the department,” Trilling said. “Ph.D. students are always integral to the personality of the department.”

University President Rita Cheng said the program will expand NAU’s research footprint.

“Our astronomy Ph.D. program opens incredible possibilities for NAU students as the exploration of space continues and the discoveries of our faculty, regarded as topic experts and world-class minds, are recognized nationally and internationally,” Cheng said in a statement.

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Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/

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