May 21, 2001
Stanford Woosley elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences
By Erica Klarreich
Stanford E. Woosley, professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics, has been
elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honor reserved
for the country's most distinguished scientists, artists, and public figures. In
addition to Woosley, this year's fellows and foreign honorary members of the Academy
include Madeleine Albright, Woody Allen, and King Juan Carlos I of Spain.
|Photo: UCSC Photo Services
Astrophysicist Stanford Woosley has been elected to the American Academy
of Arts and Sciences, an honor reserved for the nation's most distinguished intellectuals
and public figures. Woosley's research involves mathematical models of exploding
stars, as in the computer image below of the explosion of a red supergiant star created
by his graduate student Andrew MacFadyen.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded
during the American Revolution by John Adams, is one of the oldest honorary societies
in the United States. Its purpose is "to cultivate every art and science which
may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent
and virtuous people." The Academy has about 4,000 members and elects approximately
200 members each year.
Woosley and other new members of the Academy will be formally inducted in ceremonies
at the Academy's headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in October. With the election
of Woosley, 16 UCSC faculty are Academy members, of whom three are still active faculty
Woosley joined the faculty at UCSC in 1975, and he has served as chair of the Astronomy
and Astrophysics Department for eight years. This coming academic year he will be
the Hans A. Bethe Distinguished Lecturer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York,
and from 1995 to 1997 he was the Humboldt Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for
Astrophysics in Germany. He is an editor of two scientific journals and has written
or co-written about 240 publications.
Woosley's research centers on supernovae, massive explosions of dying stars.
"I like things that explode, the bigger the better," he said. "And
if the explosions are in outer space, they don't hurt anyone."
One of Woosley's accomplishments has been to construct a mathematical model for how
stars explode. "For an instant, a star's explosion can be as bright in light
as a galaxy," he said. "It can emit more energy in neutrinos in 10 seconds
than the rest of the universe, and all of that in a space the size of Santa Cruz."
Woosley's model helps explain how elements like oxygen and iron formed in the universe.
"Hydrogen and helium come from the Big Bang, but all the other elements are
made in stars," Woosley said.
According to Woosley's model, the intense heat inside a star makes hydrogen and
helium atoms collide and fuse together to form atoms such as carbon, oxygen, and
iron. When the energy for these nuclear reactions runs out, the star crashes inward
and then explodes. In the raging nuclear fires of this stellar inferno, atoms smash
into each other to form heavier elements like copper and gold.
Woosley's latest research is on gamma-ray bursts, mysterious blasts of very intense
radiation, which occur in unpredictable places as often as once a day.
Woosley's "collapsar" model for gamma-ray bursts, which has come to be
generally accepted as the leading model, proposes that the bursts occur when matter
in a huge dying star collapses into a central black hole, generating a vast amount
"Gamma-ray bursts are one of the major puzzles in the last 30 years of astronomy,"
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