Astrophysics Professor’s Class Notes Leads to Writing First Textbook
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – FEBRUARY 7, 2013 – Dr. Matthew Benacquista saw the need and fulfilled it in his own way.
Benacquista, a Professor in The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, taught a graduate level astrophysics course in 2007 and searched for the right textbook to use.
“I looked for books and found that they were too hard and too easy,” he said. “I taught the course and used both of the books and my notes.”
His notes were the basis for his first academic textbook, “An Introduction to the Evolution of Single and Binary Stars,” published earlier this year by Springer. The 260-page book is divided into four sections: Measuring Stars, Equations and Processes, Stellar Methods and Dynamical Solutions.
The textbook is for senior undergraduate or first-year graduate students interested in learning the basics of astrophysics and have an interest in gravitational waves, said Benacquista. He hopes to use the textbook this fall.
The book was literally a personal undertaking because he was the only writer and drew most of its diagrams using computer graphic programs. He also searched for problems to apply to the book’s lessons.
“For every problem in the book I found three or four problems that I found too hard for the students,” said Benacquista.
He wrote the book while teaching his full course load. The students in his classes had the benefit of helping him test how to explain concepts and new facts he needed to include. Benacquista said he embraced the extra reading and learning beyond academic papers and publishing he did to write the book.
“I always prefer learning new information instead of going into detail about specific areas,” said Benacquista. “The best thing is I learn so much from the students. I have all these students doing these projects I am directing. It’s like having an alter ego to come back and teach you new things. You always have to remember with research it needs to be good and you need to be able to explain it to others.”
He finished writing the book during a three-week stay last year at the Aspen Center for Physics in Colorado. He submitted the final text late last summer and in the autumn he proofread the manuscript.
Benacquista’s work, along with scholarly research articles written by his colleagues and graduate students, are ways to attract acclaim for the department.
“Dr. Benacquista’s book will enrich undergraduate and graduate students with the knowledge and insight of his research in the area of stellar evolution spanning over two decades,” said Dr. Soma Mukherjee, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “Publication of his book by Springer is recognition of his world class research and scholarly authority in this area of study.”
Benacquista received a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1982 from Reed College in Portland, Ore. and a doctoral degree in physics in 1988 from Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont.
Benacquista began teaching in the university’s Department of Physics and Astronomy in 2006. Before arriving in Brownsville he was an Associate Professor and Professor of Physics in the Department of Biological and Physical Sciences at Montana State University – Billings. He has also been a faculty member at Eastern Montana College in Billings, Mont.