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Lucy Fortson

Professor and SPA Associate Head (Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics)

TATEH 285-14 (office), 624-9587
fortson @ • curriculum vitae

lucy fortson.jpg

Dr. Fortson became a member of the School of Physics and Astronomy in 2010. Prior to her appointment to the faculty at the U, she was on the Astronomy Faculty at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois for thirteen years, most recently as the Vice President for Research. She was also a Senior Research Associate at the University of Chicago during this time. Dr. Fortson received her PhD in 1991 from UCLA in high energy physics for work she did at the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland probing the existence of high-mass cousins to the top quark. Returning to the United States, she began work at the University of Chicago on cosmic ray and gamma ray astrophysics with the Chicago Air Shower Array. As a post-doc, she led the CASA-BLANCA experiment studying the composition of very high energy galactic cosmic rays. She has been with the VERITAS collaboration since 2000.

A founding member of the Zooniverse project (, and current Board Chair for the Citizen Science Alliance, Dr. Fortson is also a leading expert in the field of “crowdsourcing science”. She has served on numerous national committees including the National Academy of Sciences Astronomy 2010 Decadel Survey, the Astrophysics Science Subcommittee and the Human Capital Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate Advisory Committee (MPSAC) for the National Science Foundation and the Education and Public Outreach Review Committee for the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

Summary of Interests
High-energy astrophysics, gamma-ray astronomy, extragalactic astronomy including active galactic nuclei and barred spirals; Developing online citizen science as a method to solve research problems with large datasets; physics education research.

About My Work

Photo of the VERITAS array at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory near Tucson, AZ.
S. Criswell, FLWO

High Energy Astrophysics

My research interests are in experimental high-energy astrophysics. As a member of the VERITAS (Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System), I study gamma rays detected from active galactic nuclei. Gamma-ray astronomy probes the extreme physics of systems such as the black holes at the centers of active galaxies. These systems emit radiation throughout the electromagnetic spectrum and I work to combine the information obtained from telescopes operating at multiple wavelengths to decipher how the active galaxy powers the emission of gamma rays. I am also working on the next generation ground-based gamma ray array, CTA (Cherenkov Telescope Array) comprising ~50 telescopes in an array with the aim of greatly improving the angular resolution and sensitivity to high energy gamma ray emission.

Barred spiral galaxy from the SDSS identified by Galaxy Zoo volunteers.

Galaxy Zoo and Zooniverse Citizen Science Projects

I am also a member of the Zooniverse collaboration ( which is a collection of online research projects that require human pattern matching abilities to sort through the millions of images and other data products being generated by telescopes, ocean sensors, satellites and digitized texts. I work particularly with Galaxy Zoo data where over 250,000 members of the general public have provided a highly accurate classification of a million galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey as well as various other catalogs such as from the Hubble Space Telescope. I am currently working with Prof. Scarlata and several students to push the development of human-computation algorithms to maximize the utility of the citizen science method of data processing in preparation for the onslaught of data from next-generation astronomical observatories. My students and I are also using Galaxy Zoo data in conjunction with other multiwavelength catalogs to study questions about galaxy evolution.

As the director of the Zooniverse@UMN Initiative, I am working with departments across the University to enable researchers from a variety of disciplines to utilize the citizen science method for their research. For example, I work with the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute and the department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies on the Zooniverse's Ancient Lives project which asks online volunteers to transcribe ancient greek letters on fragments of tens of thousands of ancient Egyptian papyri from the Oxyrhynchus collection. We are developing computer algorithms that will provide a consensus transcription based on the many transcriptions submitted by the citizen scientists.

Advisees and Collaborators

Current UMN faculty/senior researcher collaborators:
Walter Brisken (MIfA - VERITAS)
Claudia Scarlata (MIfA- Galaxy Zoo)
Jarvis Haupt (EE - VERITAS and CTA)
Nita Krevans (CNES - Zooniverse)
Philip Sellew (CNES- Zooniverse)
Anne-Francois Lamblin (MSI - Zooniverse)

Current Postdocs:
Kyle Willett (Galaxy Zoo)
Cameron Rulten (VERITAS)

Current Graduate Students:
Melanie Galloway (Physics- Galaxy Zoo)
Karlen Shahinyan (Astronomy - VERITAS)
Julie Vievering (Physics - VERITAS)

Former Postdocs:

Jonathan Dumm (now Oskar Klein Fellow, Stockholm University)
Jeffrey Grube (now Faculty, Stevens Institute of Technology)
Niklas Karlsson (now financial industry, Sweden)
Tommy Nelson (now Research Faculty, University of Pittsburgh)

Marco Perale (now Digital Humanities, Marie Curie Fellowship, Oxford University)
James Brusuelas (now Digital Humanities, Oxford University)

Selected Publications

Zooniverse: Fortson, L., et al., Galaxy Zoo: Morphological Classification and Citizen Science, Advances in Machine Learning and Data Mining for Astronomy, Chapman & Hall/CRC Data Mining and Knowledge Discovery Series [abstract]

Gamma-ray Astronomy: Abeysekara, A. U., et al. (for the VERITAS collaboration), A Search for Brief Optical Flashes Associated with the SETI Target KIC 8462852, Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 818, Issue 2, article id. L33, 6 pp. (2016)

Gamma-ray Astronomy: Abeysekara, A. U., et al (VERITAS Collaboration), Gamma-Rays from the Quasar PKS 1441+25: Story of an Escape, Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 815, Issue 2, article id. L22, 7 pp. (2015)

Gamma-ray Astronomy: Furniss, A. et al (for Fermi LAT, NuSTAR and VERITAS collaborations), First NuSTAR Observations of Mrk 501 within a Radio to TeV Multi-Instrument Campaign, The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 812, Issue 1, article id. 65, 22 pp. (2015)

Zooniverse: Smethurst, R. J. et al (for Galaxy Zoo collaboration), Galaxy Zoo: evidence for diverse star formation histories through the green valley, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 450, Issue 1, p.435-453 (2015)

Gamma-ray Astronomy: Aleksić, J., et al. (for the MAGIC and VERITAS collaborations), Unprecedented study of the broadband emission of Mrk 421 during flaring activity in March 2010, Astronomy & Astrophysics Volume 578, id.A22, 26 pp (2015)

Zooniverse: Willett, K. W., et al. (for the Galaxy Zoo collaboration), Galaxy Zoo: the dependence of the star formation-stellar mass relation on spiral disc morphology, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 449, Issue 1, p.820-827 (2015)

Zooniverse: Galloway, M. A., et al. (for the Galaxy Zoo collaboration), Galaxy Zoo: the effect of bar-driven fuelling on the presence of an active galactic nucleus in disc galaxies, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 448, Issue 4, p.3442-3454 (2015)

Gamma Ray Astronomy: B. Acharya et. al.(CTA Consortium), Introducing the CTA Concept, Astroparticle Physics, Volume 43, p. 3-18 (2013)

Gamma Ray Astronomy: Arlen, T., et al.(VERITAS Collaboration), Rapid TeV gamma-ray flaring of BL Lacertae, Astrophys. J., Vol. 762, Issue 2, (2013)

Zooniverse: Christian, Carol; Lintott, Chris; Smith, Arfon; Fortson, Lucy; Bamford, Steven, Citizen Science: Contributions to Astronomy Research, Organizations, People and Strategies in Astronomy Vol. 1 [abstract]

Gamma Ray Astronomy: Arlen, T., et. al., (VERITAS Collaboration)., Constraints on Cosmic Rays, Magnetic Fields, and Dark Matter from Gamma-Ray Observations of the Coma Cluster of Galaxies with VERITAS and Fermi, Astrophys. J., Vol. 757, Issue 2, (2012)

Gamma Ray Astronomy: Acciari, V.A., et al. (VERITAS Collaboration), TeV and Multi-wavelength Observations of Mrk 421 in 2006-2008, Astrophys. J., 738, 25 (2011). [abstract]

Zooniverse: Smith, A.M., et al., Galaxy Zoo Supernovae, MNRAS, 412 (2011) pp. 1309.

Zooniverse: K. Masters, et al., Galaxy Zoo: Bars In Disc Galaxies, MNRAS, 411 Issue 3 (2011) pp. 2026

Gamma Ray Astronomy: Acciari, V.A., et al. (VERITAS Collaboration), The Discovery of Gamma-Ray Emission from the Blazar RGB J0710+591, Astrophys. J., 715 L49-L55 (2010).

Zooniverse: K. Schawinski et al., The Sudden Death of the Nearest Quasar, The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 724, Issue 1, pp. L30-L33 (2010)

Gamma Ray Astronomy: V. Acciari et. al., (VERITAS Collaboration), A Connection Between Star Formation Activity and Cosmic Rays in the Starburst Galaxy M82, ature, Volume 462, pp. 770-772 (10 December 2009).

Gamma Ray Astronomy: V. Acciari et. al., (VERITAS Collaboration), Simultaneous Multiwavelength Observations of Markarian 421 During Outburst, strophys. J., Volume 703, Issue 1, pp. 169-178 (2009).


Ph.D., Physics, University of California, Los Angeles, 1991.
B.A., Physics, Smith College, Northampton, MA, 1984.