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 Research Spotlight: Doug Forbes

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Research Spotlight 
Name: Doug Forbes
 
Occupation: Astronomer
 
Before Grenfell:
Ph.D. from University of Victoria; one year post-doc and several years research and teaching at Trent University and Colby College.
 
Accomplishment:
First census of the massive stars responsible for powering a 600-lightyear high "chimney" of hot gas streaming out of the plane of our Galaxy.
 
Honours:
Received the President's Award for Outstanding Research (MUN, 1993) for work on how stars form and evolve.
 
 Telescope  Star Cluster
  The open cluster Berkeley 87, an active site of star formation. 
 
Reading the "fossil record" in stars
 
Astronomer looks to clusters of stars for clues to stellar birth
Unlike the diamonds in the advertisement, stars are not forever. We've learned that stars continue to be born, live their lives and die. The details of star birth are still poorly known, since the star forming process takes far longer than a few human lifetimes and occurs hundreds of light-years away, hidden behind opaque shrouds of interstellar gas and dust. What we do understand of star birth suggests that stars often form, tens or hundreds at a time, in groups known as open clusters (the familiar Pleiades cluster is an example). Open clusters hold something like a "fossil record" of how interstellar gas was assembled into stars (and perhaps planets), and how those stars change with time. Trying to uncover and decipher that fossil record is what keeps Dr. Doug Forbes up late at nights, sometimes literally.
 
Doug began his work on star formation after completing the Ph.D in physics and astronomy at the University of Victoria in 1983, working with Dr. David Crampton of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. A year of post-doctoral work with David Turner at Laurentian University was followed by several years of teaching and research at Trent University (1984-87), Colby College (1987-88) and the University of Manitoba (1988-89). Doug joined the faculty at SWGC in 1989. Since coming to Grenfell Doug has been fortunate in being funded by Research Grants totalling $145,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. This has allowed him to travel to observatories in British Columbia, Arizona, and Chile, where he's been able to obtain observing time on a number of 2-meter class telescopes.
 
The research has been aimed at trying to learn why and how clusters manage to form stars in such a way that there are always many low-mass stars, but only a very few high-mass stars. The process may be a random one (much like hitting a bag of cookies a few times with a hammer and finding lots of little pieces, but few large chunks), or it may be constrained by physical conditions within the parent gas cloud. A related problem is that some clusters seem to show a spread in the ages of their stars - the massive stars seem to have been born 10-20 million years after the birth of the lower mass stars - yet other clusters contain stars which all share the same birthday. What sort of "trigger" could start stars forming all at once in one place, and delay the process for only certain types of stars in some other cloud?
 
Doug has published two dozen research papers based on his observations and has presented eight papers and an invited review in a number of conferences held in the last five years. He's been lucky to have supervised several Grenfell students, in particular Steve Short (a NSERC Summer Undergraduate Research Award holder in 1993, now a Ph.D. student in astronomy at the University of Western Ontario), Ian McCarthy (now in the M.Sc. programme in astronomy at University of Victoria), and Jennifer Wells (presently at MUN). He has also enjoyed many visits to schools in Western Newfoundland to give presentations on astronomy, and has arranged for a number of public talks by astronomers in the Shapley Visiting Lectureship series of the American Astronomical Society.
 
Contact Information:
Douglas Forbes
Science - Physics
Grenfell Campus Memorial University
Corner Brook, NF
A2H 6P9
Tel: 709-637-6295
dforbes@grenfell.mun.ca

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