Michelson Postdoctoral Fellowship Recipients

2000 Postdoctoral Fellows

Jean-Philippe Berger
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

The aim of my research work is to study star formation mechanisms with long baseline interferometers. Current interferometers have provided us with the first high angular observations of T Tauri and Herbig AeBe stars. The next step is to obtain real images of young stars and their circumstellar environment. My research work as a Michelson fellow will thus have both instrumental and science components.

I propose to promote a new generation of imaging instruments that should considerably simplify long baseline interferometer operations. It will open the way for real imaging capability with an array of optical and infrared telescopes. This instrumental part of my work is based upon the use of integrated optics technologies that allow us to integrate optical waveguides on a small chip similar to microelectronics.

From a practical point of view a close collaboration with the CfA IOTA team (in particular with R. Millan-Gabet, W. Traub and I. Porro) will allow me to carry on first "on sky" tests of an integrated optics 2-way and 3-way beam combiner and to learn more about the practice of integrated optics and its interfacing with classical bulk optics.

Following this exploration a second collaboration with the CHARA team (in collaboration with Theo ten Brummelaar, Steve Ridgway and Hall McAlister) will explore instrumental solutions for beam combination of a 6 telescope array which is a real technical challenge. This instrument require to develop dedicated integrated optics 6-way beam combiners and its associated instrumentation. With its six telescopes, CHARA, which is operated by the Georgia State University, will be one of the very first real imaging interferometers with enough sensitivity to study star formation.

If successful, these new instruments should allow to observe young stellar objects observations with much higher precision (or dynamic range). We expect that these new observations will allow tougher constraints on the environmental models, in particular on the physical mechanisms operating at the heart of the so-called accretion disks which are still poorly understood (accretion physics,accretion-ejection processes, planetary formation etc...)

Marc Kuchner
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

I want to directly detect light from extrasolar planetary systems. The best way to do this without being overwhelmed by starlight appears to be nulling interferometry. During my tenure as Michelson fellow, I'll be continuing my work with Wes Traub at CfA and Eugene Serabyn at JPL on strategies for using the Keck Interferometer to study nearby stars in nulling mode to search for faint circumstellar emission from evolved planetary systems.

I'm also interested in applying interferometric techniques to study the likely sites of planet formation, disks around young stars. I'm hoping to work on high-resolution interferometric observations of disks around young stars with IOTA and the MMT, and to learn from Phil Hinz and Rafael Millan-Gabet. In particular, I want to use nulling to study the temperature structure of Herbig AeBe disks, and to use IOTA in concert with submillimeter interferometry to search for gaps in Herbig AeBe disks that might be related to the planet formation process.

I have some relevant theoretical interests. In general, the most visible component of planetary systems is not likely to be the planets themselves, but dust produced by collisions and outgassing of asteroids or comets. I am working on understanding the dynamics of belts of small bodies and the interaction between dust clouds and planets. I hope to continue this work with Scott Kenyon and Matthew Holman at CfA. The results of our simulations should help explain high-resolution observations of planetary systems.

Marc is currently an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Maciej Konacki
California Institute of Technology

High precision astrometry requires not only advanced technology but also elaborated methods of data analysis. The goal of my research is to develop techniques of planet detection for astrometric measurements obtained with the Space Interferometry Mission. It can be accomplished by solving several different problems. One of the most important is the derivation of orbital parameters. Such task is especially challenging for multiplanetary systems. Another one concerns the design of observing scenarios optimal from the planet detection point of view. These issues can be analyzed before the launch of SIM by means of numerical simulations that among others include a realistic SIM model. The end product of my research will be a number of theoretical and numerical tools that will help to prepare and conduct with SIM an efficient and productive planet search campaign.

Maciej is currently an Associate Professor at the Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center at the Polish Academy of Sciences.