Iowa State Prof Chosen For Inaugural Millar Lecture at Tech

Iowa State Prof Chosen For Inaugural Millar Lecture at Tech

SOCORRO, N.M. – New Mexico Tech is pleased to announce the inaugural Charles Millar Lecture, featuring well-known astrophysicist Dr. Steven Kawaler of Iowa State University.

Kawaler will present his talk “Sounding Stars while Hunting for Planets with the Kepler, K2, and TESS Spacecraft” at 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, in Workman 101.  


Dr. Stephen Kawaler


Kawaler will discuss the remarkable contributions that asteroseismology has been able to make to exoplanet and stellar studies using the remarkable archive of photometry gathered by the Kepler Space Telescope, the ongoing efforts of the follow-on K2 mission, and plans for future missions such as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS.

By awakening us to the amazing abundance of other planetary systems, the Kepler mission has been a landmark in advancing our understanding of the Universe. The basis for these discoveries is extremely accurate brightness measurements of over 100,000 stars, simultaneously and continuously over several years, to search for dips in a star's light when and if on of its planets crosses the star's face. These photometric time series also enable us to probe the subtle vibrations of the stars themselves - star quakes - that can reveal their internal structure via a technique known as asteroseismology.

Through asteroseismology we can accurately measure the masses, ages, and radii of the stars – properties that are needed to specify the dimensions of their planets. In addition, though the data corresponding to planetary transit events is far less than 0.1% of the total amount of data obtained, the remaining >99.9% of the data is an exquisite record of the time-domain behavior of an enormous variety of stars.

The namesake and supporter of this annual lecture, Charles Millar is a career and mining engineer. He considers himself a constant student; his curiosity and generosity are responsible for this endowed lecture series. He studied mining at New Mexico Tech in 1960 to 61, finishing his bachelor’s in University Nevada at Reno's Mackay School of Mines. He changed careers from mining to civil engineering in the 1980's when he earned a master’s in civil engineering from Stanford University. Much of his later career was with Bechtel Corp., where he was lead engineer on a $200 million housing project in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Kawaler is a professor of Physics and Astronomy at Iowa State University. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin. After serving as Associate Research Scientist at Yale University, he joined the ISU faculty in 1989. His astronomical journey began at an early age and included building (from scratch) several small telescopes. Still not having outgrown this childhood fascination with the cosmos, his research now focuses on theoretical and space-based studies of the lives (and deaths) of stars. His specialty is using subtle variation in the brightness of stars as seismic probes of their interiors. Much of his research involves NASA's Kepler spacecraft, which provides exquisite data on stars (some of which host extrasolar planetary systems).

Kawaler has served as a Councilor of the American Astronomical Society, and is as a Scientific Editor of The Astrophysical Journal. He is a past president of the Division on Variable Stars (Division V) of the International Astronomical Union and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

During down time he can often be found pondering the mysteries of the game of baseball (from the stands more than the field) or on a bicycle riding the roads of rural Iowa (if it isn't too hot, or too cold, or raining, or windy.

– NMT –