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Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Last modified: Tuesday, March 24, 2009

British astrophysicist, Advanced Studies fellow speaks tonight

One of two events this week recognizing International Year of Astronomy

March 24, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study tonight (March 24) welcomes to the podium astrophysicist Thomas Hartquist, an institute Visiting Fellow from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

Hartquist, who is spending about three weeks in Bloomington, will speak on "The Chemical Heritage of Star and Planet Formation" during IU's ongoing celebration of the International Year of Astronomy. A second IYA event, the reopening of IU's historic Kirkwood Observatory, will follow some 25 hours later.

Hartquist is a distinguished and internationally recognized scholar in the physics of the interstellar medium, the complex system of dust, thermal gas, cosmic rays and magnetic fields that pervades the space between the stars of our own Milky Way and other galaxies.

"We live in a chemically-controlled cosmos, and cosmic chemistry did much to prepare Earth for life, even before and as the Solar System formed," Hartquist said. "All visible matter in the universe has at one or more times passed through a phase when chemistry governed many of its important physical properties."

In nominating his longtime colleague and friend for a fellowship, IU Astronomy professor Richard Durisen said Hartquist's work would be of specific benefit to the Department of Astronomy's hydrodynamics research group.

"As an IAS fellow he can apply his expertise in cosmochemistry to the computer simulations of planet-forming discs around young stars that our hydrodynamics research group is working on," Durisen said. "The IU hydro group produces temperature and pressure histories of fluid elements in simulated disks and these are then provided to Tom's colleagues in England who have a complex chemical reaction code appropriate for the conditions in our disks. Tom is the essential glue of the collaboration."

Molecules observed by astrophysicists include water and numerous organic species that become incorporated in comets, meteors and planets, with some meteorites containing even amino acids of probable interstellar origin, Durisen explained, and the chemistry of star and planet formation created the initial conditions on Earth that triggered the emergence of life.

Hartquist will speak at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, in Room 015 of the School of Fine Arts, 1201 E. 7th St., and the event is free and open to the public. On Wednesday, the following night, IU's historic Kirkwood Observatory, constructed in 1900, will reopen its doors for the public viewing season at 8:30 p.m., weather permitting, with an open house celebrating the International Year of Astronomy. Although forecasts call for cloudy skies, if clear skies do prevail, guests should be able to view nearby star clusters and a bright, yellow Saturn.

Located just north of the corner of Fourth Street and Indiana Avenue at the wooded edge of campus, the observatory will remain open to the public for night sky viewing each Wednesday evening through November. Visitors can call the Kirkwood hotline at 855-7736 to determine if the observatory will be closed due to weather.

The Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) is Indiana University's leading center for the pursuit of new knowledge and new directions of inquiry in all fields of study. It pursues its goals and contributes to the university's research mission by supporting intellectual exchanges that are primarily collaborative and interdisciplinary. The IAS invites distinguished scholars, scientists and artists from throughout the world to one or more of the university campuses to work on specific projects with faculty and students, brings to the university eminent speakers from all fields of human endeavor, and sponsors multidisciplinary seminars and working groups on the Bloomington campus that promise fresh insights and can lead to future funding.

For more information, please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896, or