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Rosa Williams

Rosa Williams

University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign

Shortly before the first man walked on the Moon, I was born in New Haven, Connecticut. I was raised in Maryland after my father obtained a position as a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Maryland. My mother did technical work in biochemistry, so I got very tired of chemical discussions around the dinner table! As a result, I focused on astronomy as a suitable non-chemistry career, with help in that early enthusiasm from (of course) the works of Carl Sagan. My parents were understanding in the matters of backyard telescopes, searches for dark locations, and late-night lunar eclipses or meteor watches.

I obtained an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Texas at Austin, and went straight on to graduate work in astronomy, earning my Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in 1999. Working with You-Hua Chu over this time, I developed an interest in supernova remnants, particularly X-ray studies thereof, and the interstellar medium generally. I have been studying the puzzling critters ever since, over a NRC posdoctoral fellowship at NASA/Goddard, and another at the University of Massachusetts. I have currently returned to the University of Illinois as a Research Scientist.

The new era of Great Observatories like Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer has been a
very exciting time for me. As I largely study supernova remnants in the nearby
Magellanic Cloud galaxies, I am awed by the wealth of detail available from
these instruments. By combining the Hubble optical images with Chandra X-ray
maps and spectroscopy, I have been pursuing the question of the development of
these objects at late stages - I think of it as forensic science on the remains
of long-dead stars. Long after a star has exploded, the shock and material from
that star continues to sweep out an ever-increasing sphere in the interstellar
medium. I like to remember that almost all of the heavy elements - including those necessary for life - are sent out into the interstellar medium by supernova remnants, to form the next generation of stars and planets.