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NASA Sounding Rocket Mission Seeks Source of X-rays Emanating From Inner Galaxy

This post was originally published by NASA

To human eyes, the night sky between the stars appears dark, the void of space. But X-ray telescopes capture a profoundly different view. Like a distant firework show, our images of the X-ray sky reveal a universe blooming with activity. They hint at yet unknown cosmic eruptions coming from somewhere deeper into our galaxy.

To help find the source of these mysterious X-rays, University of Wisconsin—Madison astronomer Dan McCammon and his team are launching the X-ray Quantum Calorimeter or XQC instrument. XQC will make its seventh trip to space aboard a NASA suborbital rocket. This time, XQC will observe a patch of X-ray light with 50 times better energy resolution than ever before, key to revealing its source. The launch window opens at Equatorial Launch Australia’s Arnhem Space Centre in Northern Territory, Australia, on June 26, 2022.

Because Earth’s atmosphere absorbs X-rays, our first views of cosmic X-rays awaited the space age. In June 1962, physicists Bruno Rossi and Ricardo Giacconi launched the first X-ray detector into space. The flight revealed the first sources of X-rays beyond our Sun: Scorpius X-1, a binary star system some 9,000 light-years away, as well as a diffuse glow spread across the sky. The discovery founded the field of X-ray astronomy and later won Giacconi a share of the 2002 Nobel Prize in physics.

a heatmap of the night sky that is mostly blue but has a few blobs of green and warmer colors like orange and red. One of the blobs is circled, indicating the area that McCammon's team is focusing on
This image shows a “map” of the night sky in soft X-ray light in galactic coordinates, with the Sun positioned at the center. The horizontal line across the middle of the image runs along the plane of our disk-shaped galaxy. University of Wisconsin, Madison astronomer Dan McCammon and the XQC team will be observing the bright blob in the center of the image, circled with a dotted line. This is the southern part of a roughly circular blob around the center of the galaxy, cut in half by cold absorbing gas in the plane of the galaxy.
Credits: Snowden et al., 1997

Scientists have now mapped the X-ray sky in ever-finer detail with the help of other NASA X-ray missions. Still, there are several bright patches whose sources are unknown. For the upcoming flight, McCammon and his team will target a patch of X-ray light only partly visible from the Northern Hemisphere.

“It covers a big part of the galaxy, but we needed to be in the Southern Hemisphere to see that part of the sky,” McCammon said. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this expedition to Australia.”

Scientists believe the X-ray patch comes from diffuse, hot gas heated by supernovae, the brilliant eruptions of dying stars. The XQC mission is investigating two possible sources, illustrated in the graphic below.

One possibility is that the X-rays come from gas heated by “Type Ia” supernovae, the death throes of massive stars that live tens to hundreds of millions of years. The inner part of our galaxy has a high enough concentration of this type of supernova to heat the X-ray patch McCammon is investigating.

The other possible source is “Type II” supernovae. The stars behind Type II supernova are even more massive, burn brighter and hotter, and live just a few million years before going supernova. They occur in active star-forming regions, like those in one of our galaxy’s inner spiral arms.

To distinguish these possibilities, XQC will analyze the X-ray light, looking for traces of oxygen and iron. More oxygen points to Type II supernovae, while less oxygen suggests Type 1a supernovae. The physics behind it is complex but ultimately stems from how long the stars burned before erupting. The smaller stars behind Type 1a supernovae burn for longer, leaving less oxygen behind than Type II supernovae.

Of course, the flight is likely to capture much more information as well. “This is an exploration with a new capability – we want to see what we can see,” McCammon said. “Every time we look at the X-ray sky with a new capability, it turns out to be more complicated that we supposed.”

After the flight, the team plans to recover the instrument. It will retire to Oak Ridge National Labs in Tennessee where it will aid in laboratory experiments.

This flight will be XQC’s final trip to space, but the very first from the new Arnhem Space Centre rocket range in East Arnhem, Australia. XQC is part of a three-rocket campaign launching from the range in June and July 2022, NASA’s first time launching from Australia since 1995.

Sau Lan Wu honored with named planet

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has named a minor planet ‘Saulanwu’ after UW–Madison physics professor Sau Lan Wu.

The planet (177770) ‘Saulanwu’ (=2005 JE163) was discovered on May 8, 2005 at Mt Lemmon observatory in southern Arizona by a NASA funded project, the Catalina Sky Survey. More details about the planet can be found from NASA’s JPL website, including a sketch of the planet’s orbit, which is in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Minor planet ‘Saulanwu’ is about two kilometers in diameter, and it takes four years to orbit the sun once. This planet is relatively stable, dynamically, and is expected to remain in our cosmos for millions of years to come.

Wu was nominated for this honor by astronomer Gregory J. Leonard from the University of Arizona’s Department of Planetary Sciences.

a certificate announcing that Sau Lan Wu has had a minor planet named after her

Victor Brar, Moritz Münchmeyer funded through latest round of Research Forward

Victor Brar

Sixteen projects — including two from Physics — have been selected for funding in the second round of Research Forward, a program to stimulate innovative and groundbreaking research at UW–Madison that is collaborative, multidisciplinary and potentially transformative.

The winning projects were chosen from 96 proposals submitted by applicants across campus. The Research Forward initiative is sponsored by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education and is supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which provides funding for one or two years, depending on the needs and scope of the project. Some of the projects that have been funded have the potential to fundamentally transform a field of study.

profile photo of Moritz Muenchmeyer
Moritz Münchmeyer

The Research Forward initiative is sponsored by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education and is supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which provides funding for one or two years, depending on the needs and scope of the project. Some of the projects that have been funded have the potential to fundamentally transform a field of study.

“Research Forward encourages collaboration among campus PIs, enhances PhD student and postdoc training, and strengthens our external grant funding requests,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “The projects we selected are truly forward-looking and use innovative approaches and tools such as state-of-the-art machine learning methods, 3D printing techniques and geostationary satellites.”

The Physics projects are:

Keith Bechtol selected to Department of Energy Early Career Research Program

profile photo of keith bechtol
Keith Bechtol

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science announced the selection of 83 scientists — including University of Wisconsin–Madison physics professor Keith Bechtol — to the Early Career Research Program.

The funding will allow Bechtol and his group to first work on commissioning the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in preparation for the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST), then they will transition to data collection and analysis for their cosmology research.

“We are anticipating that LSST will catalog more stars, more galaxies and more solar system objects during its first year of operations than all previous telescopes combined,” Bechtol says.

Rubin Observatory’s telescope will have an eight-meter diameter mirror and a ten square degree field of view. The 3.2-billion-pixel camera will collect an image every 30 seconds. All told, LSST will amass around 10 terabytes of data every night.

Bechtol has leadership roles for building and commissioning the observatory as well as with the Dark Energy Science Collaboration (DESC), the international science collaboration that will make high accuracy measurements of fundamental cosmological parameters using LSST data. At least seven other collaborations have formed around different science areas to analyze the data. Rubin Observatory is preparing to serve the LSST data to many thousands of scientists in the US, Chile, and at international partner institutions around the world.

“DESC will use LSST data to address several outstanding physics questions, such as: Why are the distances between galaxies growing at an accelerating rate? What is the fundamental nature of dark matter? What is the absolute mass scale of neutrinos? How did the universe begin and what were the initial conditions?” Bechtol says.

Bechtol will receive around $150,000 per year for five years to cover summer salary and research expenses. The research expenses will be used mostly to cover the analyses after the data collection starts. However, because there cannot be useful data without the initial commissioning and science validation steps — and because the Observatory is still a couple of years away from first light — the DOE award is also supporting Bechtol’s efforts during the commissioning phase to accelerate the realization of DESC science goals.

“For me, the most important thing about this award is that it will provide more opportunity for students and postdocs to directly contribute to this ambitious experiment. Turning on a new experiment of this scale and complexity doesn’t happen every day,” Bechtol says. “For my research group to be able to participate firsthand in the commissioning, seeing first light, and contributing to the first cosmology results is so valuable from a career development perspective. We are training the next generation of experiment builders.”

The DOE early career program is open to untenured, tenure-track professors at a U.S. academic institution (or a full-time employee at a DOE national laboratory) who received a PhD within the past 10 years. Research topics are required to fall within one of the DOE Office of Science’s eight major program offices, including high energy physics, the program through which Bechtol’s award was made.


Thad Walker honored with Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professorship

profile photo of Thad Walker
Thad Walker

Extraordinary members of the University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty, including physics professor Thad Walker, have been honored during the last year with awards supported by the estate of professor, U.S. senator and UW Regent William F. Vilas (1840-1908).

Walker was one of seventeen professors were named to Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professorships, an award recognizing distinguished scholarship as well as standout efforts in teaching and service. The professorship provides five years of flexible funding — two-thirds of which is provided by the Office of the Provost through the generosity of the Vilas trustees and one-third provided by the school or college whose dean nominated the winner.

In addition, nine professors received Vilas Faculty Mid-Career Investigator Awards and six professors received Vilas Faculty Early Career Investigator Awards.

Detailed analysis of old star provides template for heavy element formation

This story was originally published by University Communications

The fusion furnaces that are the universe’s stars create the elements from helium up to iron. But iron is only number 26 on the periodic table out of well over 100 known elements. So the heavier ones, like gold, lead and uranium, must come from somewhere other than fusion.

Scientists have long known that those heavy elements come from neutron capture, where neutrons are added to an element that make it unstable, then it radioactively decays and its atomic number increases by one. Nearly 70 years ago, they confirmed one site, or event, of a neutron capture method known as the slow, or s-process. The rapid, or r-process, was not confirmed with a site until 2017, when the LIGO/VIRGO collaboration detected a neutron star merger.

“With a neutron star merger, the neutron stars are ripped apart and they throw out neutrons, and you can build lots of heavy elements out of these neutron stars,” says Jim Lawler, a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “The mystery arises when we look at the total r-process inventory of our home galaxy: Can we explain all that with neutron star mergers or are there additional sites?”

In a new study led by astronomers from the University of Michigan, Lawler and colleagues identified the elemental composition of HD 222925, a Milky Way star located over 1400 lightyears from earth. Their analysis confirmed that the star was rich in r-process elements, and they were able to identify and calculate the relative abundance of each element. They also found that the star is iron- and metal-poor, a proxy for age that indicates HD 222925 is relatively old and provides information about early star formation.

“We were able to determine a complete r-process abundance pattern for what we think is probably one event that happened early in the beginning of the universe,” Lawler says. “So that r-process template now can be used to screen various models of the nuclear physics that produce the r-process and see if the models for all sites are physically correct.”

At UW–Madison, Lawler and scientist Elizabeth Denhartog contributed the spectroscopic analysis that identified the elements in the star. Every element has a unique electromagnetic spectrum that can be separated into spectral lines using a diffraction grating — just like a prism separates white light into a rainbow. HD 222925 is a relatively bright star, meaning it provided stronger spectra to analyze. It was also identified by the Hubble Space Telescope, providing access to data in the ultraviolet range that is normally blocked by the ozone layer and undetectable by telescopes on Earth.

For the full story, read more on the University of Michigan’s news site.


Researchers aim X-rays at century-old plant secretions for insight into Aboriginal Australian cultural heritage

This story was originally published by David Krause at SLAC

For tens of thousands of years, Aboriginal Australians have created some of the world’s most striking artworks. Today their work continues long lines of ancestral traditions, stories of the past and connections to current cultural landscapes, which is why researchers are keen on better understanding and preserving the cultural heritage within.

close up of a tall, narrow, spiky brown plant
Secretions called exudate cover parts of the spike of a Xanthorrhoea plant — colloquially called “grass tree” or “yakka” — used in aboriginal art. PHOTO COURTESY FLINDERS UNIVERSITY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

In particular, knowing the chemical composition of pigments and binders that Aboriginal Australian artists employ could allow archaeological scientists and art conservators to identify these materials in important cultural heritage objects. Now, researchers are turning to X-ray science to help reveal the composition of the materials used in Aboriginal Australian cultural heritage – starting with the analysis of century-old samples of plant secretions, or exudates.

Aboriginal Australians continue to use plant exudates, such as resins and gums, to create rock and bark paintings and for practical applications, such as hafting stone points to handles. But just what these plant materials are made of is not well known.

Therefore, scientists from six universities and laboratories around the world turned to high-energy X-rays at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the synchrotron SOLEIL in France. The team aimed X-rays at ten well-preserved plant exudate samples from the native Australian genera EucalyptusCallitrisXanthorrhoea and Acacia. The samples had been collected more than a century ago and held in various institutions in South Australia.

The results of their study were clearer and more profound than expected.

“We got the breakthrough data we had hoped for,” says Uwe Bergmann, physicist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and former SLAC scientist who develops new X-ray methods. “For the first time, we were able to see the molecular structure of a well-preserved collection of native Australian plant samples, which might allow us to discover their existence in other important cultural heritage objects.”

Researchers today published their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Profile picture of Uwe Bergmann
Uwe Bergmann

Looking below the surface

Over time, the surface of plant exudates can change as the materials age. Even if these changes are just nanometers thick, they can still block the view underneath it.

“We had to see into the bulk of the material beneath this top layer or we’d have no new information about the plant exudates,” SSRL Lead Scientist Dimosthenis Sokaras says.

Conventionally, molecules with carbon and oxygen are studied with lower-energy, so-called “soft” X-rays, that would not be able to penetrate through the debris layer. For this study, researchers sent high-energy X-ray photons, called “hard” X-rays, into the sample. The photons squeezed past foggy top layers and into the sample’s elemental arrangements beneath. Hard X-rays don’t get stuck in the surface, whereas soft X-rays do, Sokaras says.

Once inside, the high-energy photons scattered off of the plant exudate’s elements and were captured by a large array of perfectly aligned, silicon crystals at SSRL. The crystals filtered out only the scattered X-rays of one specific wavelength and funneled them into a small detector, kind of like how a kitchen sink funnels water drops down its drain.

Next, the team matched the wavelength difference between the incident and scattered photons to the energy levels of a plant exudate’s carbon and oxygen, providing the detailed molecular information about the unique Australian samples.

5 brown glass jars with pigment samples outside of them
Century-old plant exudate samples in amber jars. Researchers mapped the chemistries of these samples using high-energy photons, knowledge that will help study and preserve the work of aboriginal artists who used plant material. PHOTO COURTESY FLINDERS UNIVERSITY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

A path for the future

Understanding the chemistries of each plant exudate will allow for a better understanding of identification and conservation approaches of Aboriginal Australian art and tools, Rafaella Georgiou, a physicist at Synchrotron SOLEIL, said.

“Now we can go ahead and study other organic materials of cultural importance using this powerful X-ray technique,” she says.

Researchers hope that people who work in cultural heritage analysis will see this powerful synchrotron radiation technique as a valuable method for determining the chemistries of their samples.

“We want to reach out to that scientific community and say, ‘Look, if you want to learn something about your cultural heritage samples, you can come to synchrotrons like SSRL,’” Bergmann says.

SSRL is a DOE Office of Science user facility. In addition to SSRL, parts of this research were carried out at SOLEIL in France and three CNRS laboratories (PPSM, IPANEMA, IMPMC). The University of Pisa, the Université Paris-Saclay, the University of Melbourne, Flinders University, the Australian Synchrotron International Synchrotron Access Program, and other organizations also supported this research.

From “Alien” Child to Sci-Fi Sensation

profile picture of Kevin Anderson

This story, by Doug Moe, was published in the Spring 2022 issue of On Wisconsin magazine

Kevin Anderson ’83 never abandoned his youthful passion, and now he’s one of the most successful authors in his field.

When he was growing up in Wisconsin, there was little on the surface of Kevin Anderson ’83’s life to suggest he’d become one of the world’s most prolific science-fiction authors.

“I was an alien child, I think,” says Anderson, who grew up first in Racine and then in Oregon, outside of Madison. “My dad was a bank president, and my mom was an accountant. We didn’t have an artsy streak in our family.”

Still, when Anderson was five, he saw the 1953 film The War of the Worlds and was mesmerized. Later he raced through the Ray Bradbury paperbacks he checked out of his school library, and he was left with one consuming thought.

“I wanted to tell stories like that,” he says.

In ninth grade, Anderson submitted his first science fiction story to a magazine.

“I got my first rejection slip,” he says. “I now have around 800 rejection slips. But I’ve had a couple of successes, too.”

You could say that. Anderson, who turns 60 in 2022 and now lives with his wife, Rebecca Moesta, outside Colorado Springs, has published a staggering 175 books, though that number may already be dated. Many have landed on various best-seller lists.

He has written Star Wars novels, X-Files novels, Dune novels in collaboration with Brian Herbert (son of Dune creator Frank Herbert), and even steampunk fantasy novels with a rock-and-roll star for a coauthor. Clockwork Lives, Anderson’s second novel with the late Rush drummer, Neil Peart, is his favorite among all his books.

The genesis of their unlikely friendship is itself a good tale. It followed the appearance of Resurrection, Inc., Anderson’s first novel, published when he was 25 and working as a technical writer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Anderson got the Livermore job after graduating from UW–Madison with a degree in physics and astronomy and a minor in Russian history. He took a few writing classes but says, “I guess I wanted to know things to write about rather than how to write. I wanted to have ingredients, not cookbooks.”

Recalling his time at the UW, Anderson notes, “I loved the campus and student life. I still miss Rocky Rococo’s pizza. That was one of my main food groups.”

More seriously, he adds, “Growing up in a small town was great. But being sort of an odd duck who liked to read comic books and make up stories about space battles and things — I didn’t have a whole lot of people that I had much in common with. It wasn’t until I got to the university that I found other writers and creative people.”

Resurrection, Inc. was inspired by the Rush album Grace under Pressure. Anderson had admired the band for years. He sent signed copies of the novel to Mercury Records, asking that they be forwarded to Rush, not really expecting that to happen.

Yet Peart not only received the novel, he loved it and sent Anderson a seven-page, single-spaced letter saying so. A correspondence ensued. The friendship included yearly invitations for Anderson to hang backstage at Rush concerts. It was in 2010 while hiking on a mountain in Colorado — a passion of Anderson’s — that the two agreed to collaborate on a novelization of Rush’s album Clockwork Angels. The book appeared in 2012.

Anderson has published a staggering 175 books, with many landing on various best-seller lists.

When Anderson met Moesta, a science-fiction fan who was working as a proofreader and copy editor at the Livermore lab, “we hit it off right away,” he says. In three decades of marriage, they’ve coauthored dozens of books, including an entire series of Star Wars adventures for young adults. They moved to Colorado in 1997, and in 2021, Anderson was inducted into the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame.

Anderson’s writing has paid off handsomely. A 1997 Publishers Weekly article stated that he and Herbert had signed a $3 million deal for a trilogy of sequels to Dune. Anderson’s website notes that 23 million copies of his books are in print in more than 30 languages.

These days he’s busier than ever. Anderson teaches writing at Western Colorado University, and he and Moesta have a publishing company, WordFire Press, that has released some 400 titles.

When his schedule allows, Anderson likes to write in the mornings. But he doesn’t sit at a computer. Instead, he heads outside and talks.

“I do all my writing on a digital recorder,” he says. “I love to go out on the trail and dictate — usually two chapters a morning. I go for a walk and tell myself a story. I send it off to a transcriptionist, who sends it back. Then I have to polish it, of course.”

Anderson has several titles coming in 2022, including the third book in the Dune trilogy and the last novel in his Clockwork series with Peart, who died in 2020. More will surely follow. This is an author who loves what he’s doing.

“It’s exactly what I’ve wanted to do since I was five years old and saw War of the Worlds,” he says. “Not many people can say they’ve built their entire career on what they wanted to be when they were a little kid.” 

Mark Saffman named WARF professor

This post is adapted from the original

profile photo of Mark Saffman, posing in his lab with lots of wires and equipment
Mark Saffman

Thirty-two members of the University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty — including physics professor Mark Saffman — have been awarded fellowships from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education for 2022-23. The awardees span the four divisions on campus: arts and humanities, physical sciences, social sciences and biological sciences.

“These awards provide an opportunity for campus to recognize our outstanding faculty,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “They highlight faculty efforts to support the research, teaching, outreach and public service missions of the university.”

The awards are possible due to the research efforts of UW–Madison faculty and staff. Technology that arises from these efforts is licensed by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the income from successful licenses is returned to the OVCRGE, where it’s used to fund research activities and awards throughout the divisions on campus.

Mark Saffman was awarded a WARF professorship. These professorships come with $100,000 and honor faculty who have made major contributions to the advancement of knowledge, primarily through their research endeavors, but also as a result of their teaching and service activities. Award recipients choose the names associated with their professorships. Saffman, the Johannes Rydberg Professor of Physics and director of The Wisconsin Quantum Institute, first began work on atomic physics and initiated a long-term effort to develop quantum computers. He is known for his research as a leader in the ongoing development of atomic quantum computers based on the Rydberg blockade mechanism.

In addition, physics affiliate professor Mikhail Kats received a Romnes Faculty Fellowship.

Congratulations to Professor Lawler on his retirement!

After 42 years on the UW–Madison faculty, Jim Lawler, the Arthur and Aurelia Schawlow Professor of Physics, has announced his retirement. Lawler is an atomic, molecular & optical physicist with a focus developing and applying laser spectroscopic techniques for determining accurate absolute atomic transition probabilities. His retirement is official as of May 22.

“What we’ve really done gradually over four-plus decades is make atomic spectroscopy more quantitative so that people can use it to really learn the detailed physics and chemistry of the remote universe,” Lawler says.

Lawler received his MS (’74) and PhD (’78) from this department, studying with now-professor emeritus Wilmer Anderson. In the two years after earning his doctorate, he was a research associate at Stanford University, and returned to UW–Madison as an assistant professor in 1980.

“There was a little bit of a disadvantage to come back to a place where I had recently been as a student,” Lawler says. “But I knew I would get extremely good graduate students and I would have access to a lot of infrastructure, and that combination really drew me back.”

He had extremely good graduate students and postdocs. Lawler supervised 26 PhD students and 10 terminal MS students. Those students and postdocs have gone on to prestigious National Research Council Fellowships, group lead positions at major companies, and tenured professorships, amongst many others.

Lawler served as department chair from 1994-1997. He also accumulated numerous awards and honors over his distinguished career. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, the U.K. Institute of Physics, and in 2020 he was elected a Legacy Fellow of the inaugural class of American Astronomical Society Fellows. He won the 1992 W. P. Allis Prize of the American Physical Society and the 1995 Penning Award from the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics for research in plasma physics, the two highest National and International Awards in the field of Low Temperature Plasma Physics. In 2017, he won Laboratory Astrophysics Prize of the American Astronomical Society for research in spectroscopy.

Longtime collaborator Blair Savage, UW–Madison professor emeritus of astronomy, says:

“Jim’s work in laboratory astrophysics provided extremely important atomic ultraviolet transition probabilities in support of the Hubble Space Telescope programs to determine elemental abundances of gaseous matter in the interstellar medium from three different ultraviolet spectrographs over the 32-year history of the space observatory. They included the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph, the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph.”

And Wilmer Anderson, Lawler’s doctoral advisor, says:

“He was a very good graduate student, and he of course has turned out to be a really great scientist and colleague. His lifetime measurements on atomic physics played a key role in understanding the neutron star collisions. I’m sorry to see him retiring but I’m sure that he will leave a legacy behind that’s really fantastic. It’s going to be a big loss to the department not to have him around.”

Lawler has collaborated with his AMO colleagues over the years, but in more of an intellectual capacity than in research. As he notes, much of AMO is headed in the quantum information and quantum computing direction, with public and private funding helping to drive it. Still, he does not see AMO headed solely in the quantum direction.

“Decades from now the currently Hot areas of physics will be less glamorous, but those stars are still going to be light years away,” Lawler says. “I think the connection of astronomy and spectroscopy — the way we learn about the physics and chemistry of the remote universe — is strong enough that it will survive. And helping make spectroscopy in astronomy more quantitative is what we’ve done that will have some lasting significance.”