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Sally Oey
Sally Oey
Image courtesy of Lowell Observatory

Sally Oey

Lowell Observatory

My parents are Chinese Indonesians who moved to the US in 1957. Since this was before the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a special bill in Congress was passed to permit my dad to immigrate. He was hired as a librarian by Cornell University, and I was born and raised in Ithaca, NY. We lived a few miles east of town, and although our house was in a valley, the skies were dark. And like other astronomers who were toddlers at that time, I was fascinated and inspired by the lunar landings and space program. As a teen, I watched Carl Sagan on TV... and I also had the chance to see him in person a couple times, since he lived in my town!

Feels like I've come a long way since then. My undergraduate degree is from Bryn Mawr College outside Philadelphia, and I worked at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA for a couple years with the X-ray group there. While I was helping to archive data from Einstein, an early X-ray satellite, others around me were developing the NASA Great Observatory that was to become the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Little did I dream then, that I would someday be a Guest Observer on Chandra myself! I went on to do my graduate work at the University of Arizona from 1988 to 1995 with Rob Kennicutt, a pundit on galaxies. After postdoctoral fellowships at Cambridge University in the UK and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, I'm now a staff astronomer back in Arizona, at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.

My scientific interests focus on the effects of the hottest, most massive stars on their interstellar environment. On small scales, these stars ionize the surrounding gas and create spectacular and photogenic emission nebulae. They also end their lives in powerful supernova explosions that create shells and hot (million-degree) gas in the interstellar medium. And these stars, along with their supernovae, are nuclear generators that create virtually all the elements in the Universe apart from hydrogen and helium. Because these stars have such a profound effect on the gas in galaxies, they are responsible for many of the processes that cause galaxies, and the Universe itself, to evolve.