James Di Francesco, astronomer with the National Research Council Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre in Victoria, will give a free lecture at Vancouver Island University on Canada’s contributions to astronomical research and plans designed to achieve research goals in the coming decade. (Photo submitted)

VIU hosts lecture by National Research Council astronomer

Free lecture reveals Canada’s contributions and future plans for researching origins of the universe

Canada’s contributions toward answering leading questions in astronomy over the past decade, plus programs and technologies on the research horizon will be discussed at an upcoming presentation at Vancouver Island University.

James Di Francesco, astronomer with the National Research Council Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre in Victoria, will explain how Canadian contributions to astronomy produce some of the world’s most cited research when he presents We Aim for the Stars: A Look at Canada’s Ambitious Astronomy Goals.

Di Francesco, originally from Ontario, earned his PhD in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin and did post doctoral work at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and University of California, Berkeley before he joined the NRC in 2002. Di Francesco studies the earliest stages of star formation and supports Canada’s participation in large radio interferometric telescope arrays, including the Atacama Large Millimetre Array in Chile and the Next Generation Very Large Array in New Mexico, a young project to be evaluated as part of a long range research planning exercise sometime in the next two years.

“I’m actually going to be talking about Canada’s involvements in cutting edge facilities as we seek to understand the universe better,” Di Francesco said. “The emphasis there is going to be about these new ideas that are being considered by our professional astronomy community that will help guide Canadian astrophysics in the next decade or so.”

Di Francesco will discuss how the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to be launched in 2019, the Thirty Metre Telescope, currently under construction and the proposed Square Kilometre Array can be tied together to further investigations into the origins of galaxies. Canada has developed leading-edge hardware and software for all of these projects.

“So for ALMA, we built in Victoria, a set of radio receivers that are in very wide use today,” Di Francesco said. “They are the best in the world for these kinds of observations. We built them here. It took about 10 years, but we produced about 73 of them for ALMA and they are in use every day.”

Developing new technology to support new research projects and facilities development are just some of the spin-off benefits that can offer career opportunities.

“Students at this talk, from an engineering side and from a science side, might be inspired to see astronomy as attractive option for their future careers,” he said.

Ultimately the technological breakthroughs in the newest generation of telescopes will combine to create a composite picture of the universe from observations made across the electromagnetic spectrum, allowing astronomers to see deeper into the universe to the earliest formations of galaxies and even look back far enough to observe hydrogen gas before even the formation of stars and galaxies.

“I think astronomy plays a very interesting role in that it provides everybody with a very clear view of the universe that we all live in,” Di Francesco said. “It gives us a sense of our origins and how we connect to the larger universe … we always wonder where did we come from and where are we going and astronomy helps provide some of those answers by looking out into the universe and seeing our place in it.”

Di Francesco’s lecture is free to the public and happens Wednesday, Feb. 7, at VIU Bldg. 355, Rm. 203.


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