shanil virani


I am the Director of the John C. Wells Planetarium, and I am also a Lecturer of Physics and Astronomy in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at James Madison University.

My Phd work was done at Yale University where I worked under the supervision of Professor Meg Urry, the Israel Munson Professor of Physics & Astronomy and current chair of the Department of Physics at Yale. My research broadly involves studying unobscured & obscured active galactic nuclei (AGN) found via  multi-wavelength surveys like the Extended Chandra Deep Field-South Survey, one of the MUSYC fields, understanding their contribution to the cosmic X-ray background, and the triggering mechanism for AGN. More info on my research interests can be found on my research page.

Prior to Yale, I served for 5+ years as a Data Analyst at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA. There, I was fortunate to work as part of the ACIS Operations and Science Operations teams that are responsible for carrying out the day-to-day business of the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The Chandra X-ray Observatory is a NASA Great Observatory and has revolutionized our understanding of the High Energy Universe and Astrophysics in general.

I consider teaching and public outreach to be critical elements of every scientist's toolbox in the 21st century. Our work is largely taxpayer supported and we need to make sure the public never loses interest in basic research. We also have the responsibility of educating the next generation of scientists and engineers and making sure they view science as an exciting field of endeavor that is open to everyone! To that end, at JMU we have started a new program entitled Saturday Morning Physics @JMU for area high school students to get them motivated and excited to pursue science and engineering at the college level. All of our lectures are recorded and made available online! I particularly enjoy visiting neighborhood schools (I used to visit Elm City College Prep Middle School in New Haven, CT, an Achievement First school), and sharing my passion and enthusiasm for Astronomy with largely minority, under-privileged students. If you are a teacher at a nearby school and would like an Astronomer to visit your class (i.e., me!), please do not hesitate to contact me. For more details, please see my outreach page.

My Ph.D research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Postgraduate Scholarship.

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welcome to my little corner of the worldwide web!

contact info

Department of Physics & Astronomy James Madison University

901 Carrier Drive

MSC 4502

Harrisonburg, VA 22807

email: viranisn @ jmu . edu


2010 2011: Physics Specialist, Science & Math Learning Center, James Madison University

2004 2010: Doctoral Candidate in Astronomy, Yale University

1996 1999: Research Assistant, York University

1992 1996: B. Sc. Honours Physics/B. A. Philosophy, University of Waterloo