Derek B. Fox

Associate Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics
Member, Center for Particle and Gravitational Astrophysics, Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos
Penn State University

My research interests are focused on multiwavelength follow-up observations of Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs), supernovae, and other high-energy transients. At Penn State I am pursuing this work in collaboration with the Swift Satellite Team and Peter Mészáros and his group. Off campus my collaborators include Edo Berger and colleagues at the Harvard / CfA; the globe-spanning members of the Palomar Transient Factory; and a diverse group of observers and theorists from around the world.

As part of our Gemini GRB program, we have twice set the world record for the "most distant object" known to astronomy: Once in 2009, with our discovery and observations of the near-infrared afterglow of GRB 090423, and then again in 2011 with my graduate student Nino Cucchiara's discovery and observations of the near-infrared afterglow of GRB 090429B. These two gamma-ray bursts occurred more than 13 billion years ago, when the Universe was less than 700 million years old and its first galaxies were forming. In my first year at Penn State, I led a team that helped solve the 35-year old mystery of the short-duration gamma-ray bursts by locating one such burst to a blue dwarf galaxy two billion light-years from Earth and observing its fading afterglow for almost a month with the Hubble Space Telescope. The resolution of this mystery caused significant excitement around the globe, and was the occasion for a NASA press conference in October 2005. I then coauthored a paper making use of these results to calculate, for the first time, the expected rate of gravity-wave detections from short bursts for various generations of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO).

As a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech, I adapted the Oschin 48-inch and Oscar Meyer 60-inch telescopes of Palomar Observatory to the task of rapid-response GRB observations. These facilities were used to discover three burst afterglows - GRB021004, GRB021211, and GRB040924 - at a very young age. The behavior of the GRB021004 afterglow, in particular, inspired a NASA press conference in March 2003. By moving quickly to observe and analyze the data from these and other facilities during this time, I discovered the afterglows of more than a dozen GRBs, and with colleagues at Caltech found the first three afterglows of X-ray Flashes (XRFs), and the first XRF redshift, z=0.251 for XRF020903.

I am a graduate of the astrophysics program within the MIT physics department. I received my Ph.D. in September 2000 with thesis advisor Professor Walter H. G. Lewin. Walter's first-year physics course at MIT is one of the most popular courses on "iTunes U", and he has recently released a memoir, For the Love of Physics, discussing his life in research and education.

Graduate Students

Undergraduate Students
Current Projects
Curriculum Vitae

X-ray Observations of Globular Clusters, Low-Mass X-ray Binaries, and a Supernova, MIT Physics, September 2000

Selected Publications
I maintain my publications list dynamically via ADS - you may browse my full list of publications, or the refereed and articles only. If you are after my most recent publications you may wish to search the ADS, although please note that there is some contamination (other 'D. Fox' individuals) in this search.

Gamma-Ray Burst Reviews:

On Gamma-Ray Bursts of various flavors: On Supernovae and Novae: On Compact Objects:
Derek Fox (dfox [at]
5 Sep 2012