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Ray White
Ray White

Ray White

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 mother.

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.