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Arthur Thurnau Professor of Physics, Astronomy, & Education


University of Michigan


United States

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Professor McKay is a data scientist, with extensive and various experience drawing inference from large data sets. In astrophysics, his main research tools have been the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Dark Energy Survey, and the simulations which support them both. His team uses these tools to probe the growth and nature of cosmic structure as well as the expansion history of the Universe, especially through studies of galaxy clusters. He has also studied astrophysical transients as part of the Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment.

In education research, McKay does learning analytics: working to understand and improve postsecondary student outcomes using the rich, extensive, and complex digital data produced in the course of educating students in the 21st century. In 2011, his team created the ECoach computer tailored support system, and in 2014, he launched the REBUILD project, a college-wide effort to increase the use of evidence-based methods in introductory STEM courses. In 2015, he founded the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, an education technology accelerator within the UM Office of Academic Innovation. In summer 2017, he helped the UM Center for Research on Learning and Teaching to launch a campus-wide Foundational Course Initiative, promoting a collaborative course design model for large introductory courses.


Professor McKay received his BS in Physics from Temple University in 1986, where he was a first generation, four year commuter student. He went on to complete a PhD in Physics from the University of Chicago in 1992. From 1992-1995 he was a Leon Lederman Fellow at Fermilab. In 1995, he joined the faculty in the University of Michigan Department of Physics, joining the Department of Astronomy in 2005, and the School of Education in 2014.