Growing up under the huge skies of southern Arizona,
my interest in astronomy developed through philosophy:
I thought that the ultimate fate of the Universe
should matter to everyone and that thinking about
it should affect the way people live their lives.
But first there is that existential angst to overcome.
While I was a Physics undergraduate at Princeton
University, Woody Allen's movie "Annie Hall"
came out and I strongly identified with the young
Alvy Singer character, who refused to do his homework
because the Universe is expanding. "What's the point?"
he asked. "Brooklyn's not expanding," replied his
After much more homework, I received a Ph.D. in
Astronomy from the University of Virgina. I then did postdoctoral
research for two years at the Institute of Astronomy, University
of Cambridge and a year at the University
of Alabama before joining the faculty at the
University of Alabama. Most of my research
involves theoretical and observational study of
X-ray emission from hot gas in galaxies and clusters
of galaxies. I use the chemistry and energy content
of gas in galaxies and galaxy clusters to determine
how galaxies formed. The Hubble image of NGC 3314
is related to a very different line of research:
assessing whether spiral galaxies are mostly opaque
or transparent in the optical. Several years ago
I was amazed to find that the optical opacity of
spiral disks was still a controversial issue, even
though we live in a spiral disk and manage to look
through it in the optical in most directions. I
thought there was a very simple (but apparently
overlooked) solution to this controversy: just use
partially overlapping galaxies to determine the
foreground galaxy opacity directly.
I haven't done research in cosmology since my
undergraduate years, but I still think that people
who don't care about the fate of the Universe are
really squirrels in human form.