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Alison Crocker: Star formation in nearby galaxies

Abstract: The quest of galaxy evolution is to understand how the wide variety of galaxies we see today (irregulars, spirals through ellipticals) formed from such initially homogeneous conditions. One of the important ingredients for galaxy evolution is the process of star formation - the conversion of primordial or enriched gas into various generations of stars within galaxies.  

Dr. Crocker will review what we know about star formation from studies of our own and nearby galaxies. One mystery is whether the star formation efficiency (the rate at which gas turns into stars) is constant or varies from galaxy to galaxy. Another is the current controversy over whether the distribution of masses that stars are born with remain uniform in different galaxies or different regions of galaxies. Along the way, she will discuss the methods astronomers use to measure star formation in nearby galaxies and how these same methods might be applicable to galaxies at even earlier times in the Universe (at higher redshifts).

Profile: Alison Crocker is an Assistant Professor at Reed College in the Physics Department. She earned her Bachelors degree in physics and math from Dartmouth College in 2006 and her DPhil in astrophysics from Oxford University, UK in 2009 where she was a Rhodes Scholar.  

Since then, she has done postdoctoral research work at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the University of Toledo, Ohio. Her research interests focus on star formation in nearby galaxies, focusing most specifically on elliptical galaxies, which were not widely recognized as forming stars until recently. The question of whether they form stars in the same manner as the more actively star-forming spirals remains open.

Alison has observed at the following telescopes: MDM Observatory at Kitt Peak (Arizona), Calar Alto Observatory (Spain), Institute de Radioastronomie Millimetrique - Granada (Spain), Nobeyama 45m radiotelescope (Japan), and the NOAO Blanco telescope (Chile). She is now working on getting a 12" telescope into operation at Reed College.