Debra Burris, PhD


LSC 176A

(501) 450-5845

PhD, Physics – Astrophysics Emphasis, University of Oklahoma, Norman (1998)

Personal Web Page:

Research: Stellar Nucleosynthesis, Cosmochronology, Spectroscopy

My research focuses on how elements heavier than iron are created in intense, astrophysical environments. Supernovae, neutron star and black hole mergers are the source of such rare elements as gold, platinum and uranium. The evolution of these stellar environments are not completely understood so the work on understanding the formation of these elements is ongoing.

Recent Publications:

“Taking Another Look: Light n-Capture Element Abundances in Metal-Poor Halo Stars”

Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 2009 in press

“Light n-Capture Elements in Metal –Poor Halo Stars”

Journal of the Arkansas Academy of Science 2009


American Astronomical Society

Professional Biography:

Debra L. Burris is an Arkansas native, graduating from Atkins High School in 1987 and Arkansas Tech University in 1992. Her earliest memories of loving Astronomy come from a book her mother bought her at the local grocery store about Stars and from going to the local library. She eagerly took every science class that the Atkins school district offered. At Tech, she worked in the Physics Labs and discovered her love of teaching.

While attending the University of Oklahoma Debra worked for John Cowan and focused on stellar nucleosynthesis. This is the study of how elements are produced by stars.  She was particularly interested in the heavier elements such as gold, platinum and uranium that are formed via neutron capture in Supernovae. The gold, silver and platinum in the jewelry that people wear comes from this exotic process. These elements are rare on Earth because of the extreme rarity of the process that makes them. During her time at OU much of her work focused on the ultra-metal-poor halo star CS22892-052. This star is a relic of the formation of our Galaxy but has an extreme abundance of the n-capture elements. There have been more elements identified in this star than in any other except the Sun. These elements include thorium which is a long-lived radioactive element that can used to “carbon-date” the star to determine a lower limit of its age. The data that used to detect these elements came from the Hubble Space Telescope observations that her research team made. While at OU, Debra presented at 2 American Astronomical Society meetings, yearly regional and state conferences and was the runner-up for the Nielsen Prize for excellence in Graduate Research.

After completing her PhD in the summer of 1998, Debra became a part-time professor of Physics at Oklahoma City Community College, one of the largest 2-year colleges in the state. In 1999 she became a full time member of the OCCC faculty where she taught in all areas of Physics and developed an online Astronomy course. In addition to her regular teaching duties, Debra participated in many outreach programs including teaching the concurrent enrollment Astronomy course at Capitol Hill High School.

In 2005, Debra accepted a tenure-track assistant professorship at UCA. During her time here, she had taught many of the lower division physics courses, has taught the Modern Physics component of the University Physics sequence and is developing the upper division Astrophysics course. She has had a very active student research group working with 5 different students in the past 4 years. Her students have participated in 2 American Astronomical society meetings as well as presenting yearling at state and regional meetings. In 2008, her student Jeremy Lusk was chosen as the winner of the INBRE Conference Physics Prize. Debra has presented at these national, regional and state meetings as well and was selected to as an invited speaker at the Institute of Nuclear Theory’s Nuclei in the Cosmos Summer School  and as the Featured speaker at the 2007 Mid American Regional Astrophysics Conference. She has also been on the invited panel at Science Café in Little Rock in March 2008 and March 2009. In addition to an active research program, Debra also participates in community educational outreach doing school visits and volunteer work with outreach groups.