Lecture explores what lies beyond the universe

By Lynn Easson-Irvine, October 18, 2007

    Christine Wilson, a professor in physics and astronomy, will give a lecture Beyond the Visible Universe: Dark Clouds, Galaxy Collisions, and the Origin of Stars on Sunday, Oct. 21. Photo by Susan Bubak.
One of the most intrinsically compelling questions for humanity is, "What lies beyond?" It can mean many different things to many different people. Some people think they know the answer, but for an astrophysicist like Dr. Christine Wilson, the question can only be answered through ongoing and thorough scientific research.

On Sunday, Oct. 21, Wilson, a professor in physics and astronomy and a recipient of the Ontario Premier's Research Excellence Award, will be giving a talk at the Science on Sunday lecture series hosted by the Royal Canadian Institute.

Wilson's lecture is entitled Beyond the Visible Universe: Dark Clouds, Galaxy Collisions, and the Origin of Stars. She will discuss her research, which includes the analysis of the interstellar medium and star formation, both in nearby galaxies and in our own Milky Way.

Wilson will touch on the compiled research from her last sabbatical, which she spent with the Smithsonian Observatory based at the Submillimeter Array in Hawaii. While she was there, she looked at the progression of nearby colliding galaxies.

She will also talk about the scientific tools she uses to approach this research. Although she is versed in the multi-wavelength approach to astronomical research, she is an expert in the use of radio astronomy, or more specifically, millimeter-wave radio interferometry, where high-resolution images of the emission from molecules in the interstellar medium can be taken.

Wilson is involved in many international space research collaborations, where she has access to these tools. She is one of six Canadian project scientists on the astronomical satellite ODIN and she is also an associate scientist with the SPIRE instrument for the Herschel satellite.

The technological tools available to scientists continues to evolve, which allows them to see further and deeper into the universe.

One of the greatest significant advances in both scientific astronomical technology and international collaboration is the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) project, of which Wilson is the senior Canadian project scientist. Started in 2003, ALMA is scheduled to be completed by 2012.

"With the installation of ALMA, the scope of astronomical scientific research will broaden enormously, and we will be able to focus on projects that were unimaginable before," said Wilson.

This facility combined with the efforts of scientists like Wilson will shed light on those dark regions of the universe that we cannot yet see. Perhaps then, we will be just a little bit closer to the answer.

The lecture will take place on Sunday, Oct. 21 at 3 p.m. (doors open at 2:15 p.m.) in the Macleod Auditorium, Medical Sciences Building, University of Toronto, 1 King's College Circle (nearest subway is Queen's Park station). Parking is available on campus.