Star Formation and Evolution
My research focuses mainly on how stars are born and evolve in our own Milky Way and in other galaxies. How are new stars created in the cores of dense molecular clouds of dust and gas? How do the new stars emerge from this obscuring material? How is the material itself dissipated? Could planetary systems form around some of these stars? Direct millimeter, submillimeter, and infrared observations of the dust and gas associated with collapsing clouds, or surrounding newly-born stars, provide important information about the physical and chemical properties of these interstellar and circumstellar regions. I am especially interested in the circumstellar disks of gas and dust that appear to be an integral part of very early stellar evolution and are potential sites for planet formation. Studies of these disks need very high resolution measurements; some of the very first detections were made with Caltech's millimeter-wave array in California's Owens Valley.
In recent years, seeking more and more details of disk properties, I have become heavily involved in combining the Caltech instrument with other U.S. university arrays to create a larger and more powerful interferometer, called CARMA, at a higher site. Caltech students and postdocs played a￼ major role in the CARMA commissioning and are critical to its successful operation. It is an observatory where students can get real hands-on experience while tackling key astronomical questions. Nowadays, I also spend quite a bit of time on the planning of new submillimeter facilities like the international submillimeter-wave array, ALMA, being built in northern Chile. ALMA will revolutionize our understanding of star and planet formation, and CARMA is a great place to get a head start on the latest problems.
An aspect of my job that I have enjoyed has been the opportunity to do lots of different things: teaching and research, getting new instruments built, and also advising on astronomy policy and funding. I am currently Vice President for Student Affairs at the Institute and that's a completely new area for me.
[Image credits: Norman Seeff; Stephen White]