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Condensed Matter Astrophysics: A New Technique for Determining the Quantity and Composition of Interstellar Dust using X-rays from Black Holes

Speaker:Prof. Julia Lee
Affiliation:Harvard University Department of Astronomy & Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Date:January 20, 2011 (Thu)
Time:5:00 - 6:30 p.m.
Venue:Lecture Theatre T6, Meng Wah Complex, HKU


High spectral resolution X-ray instruments on powerful X-ray satellites (e.g. Chandra, XMM-Newton) pointed through dust and gas at bright black holes and neutron stars can be used to study dust and intervening material in unique ways. With the new subfield of Condensed Matter Astrophysics as its goal, I will discuss a new method by which techniques and knowledge from physics disciplines (atomic physics, and experimental condensed matter physics), geology, and chemistry, can be combined with astrophysical studies of X-ray emitting sources to determine the quantity and composition of interstellar gas and dust, in few-K to 1,000,000K environments. This while simultaneously probing the physics of accretion disks and measuring black hole spin.


About the Speaker:

Dr. Lee obtained her PhD in astrophysics at the University of Cambridge in UK, under the prestigious Isaac Newton fellowship as well as a national (UK) Overseas Research Scholarship. As a postdoc, she was awarded the NASA Chandra fellowship, where she took to MIT and Harvard to study black holes. In 2005, she joined the faculty at Harvard University. In 2007, Dr. Lee was part of a large team that was awarded the Gruber Prize in Cosmology for the discovery of Dark Energy. The Gruber prize is widely regarded as perhaps the most prestigious prize in astrophysics, second only to winning the Nobel prize in physics. Dr. Lee has served on various advisory committees for NASA, and was elected in 2008 to serve on the executive committee of the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society. Dr. Lee's research interests are atomic and condensed matter physics applications to astrophysics-related questions. Her focus includes multi-wavelength (primarily X-Ray), spectroscopic studies of energetic accretion systems (black holes and neutron stars), and interstellar dust through laboratory experiments and space-based observations.


Physics colloquium series is organized to introduce cutting edge researches and new development in physics, designed to be suitable to graduate and undergraduate students, and also to scientists working on different fields. Each colloquium will generally start with an extensive introduction of the background of the field, followed by forefront research topics and results. The colloquium will serve as an education forum for students and laymen alike, and also serve as a platform for exchange and update their knowledge of various branches of physics among academic staff members.