Lynne Hillenbrand

Professor of Astronomy
A.B., Princeton University, 1989; M.S., 1989; Ph.D., University of Massachusetts, 1995. Assistant Professor, Caltech, 2000-06; Associate Professor, 2006-10; Professor, 2010-; Executive Officer, 2007-12.

Stars form deep inside dark, dense, molecular clouds. For the first several hundred thousand years or so the process is obscured by the intervening gas and dust and totally hidden from our view at optical and near-infrared wavelengths. Subsequently, however, the newborn stars and their circumstellar dust and gas disks, the sites of planetary system formation, are revealed and hence amenable to study.

From x-ray to radio, multiwavelength imaging along with low and high dispersion spectroscopy are the tools used in understanding young stellar populations and the evolution of their dusty and gaseous disks into the planets we know exist around older stars.

Orion Nebula
Credit: NASA/STScI

I am an observational astronomer, which means that I go to telescopes on mountaintops (including Keck and Palomar) or use observatories in space to collect data, then process it and extract the astronomically useful information. Then come the analysis steps, creative thinking, paradigm testing, concluding, and packaging of material for presentation.

I enjoy collaborating with undergrads, graduate students, and postdocs. Rather than a coherent "group" all working on a single science problem or using one observational technique, we are a collection of individuals with diverse scientific and technical interests, all studying related aspects of young stellar evolution. I like to be led into new research areas by students.

Some of my specific research interests are in young stellar clusters including diversity in cluster shapes, sizes, and densities, the sequencing of star formation across molecular clouds, the initial mass function and primordial mass segregation in clusters. I am broadly interested in young stars, especially pre-main sequence evolution, stellar age determination, cluster age dispersion, stellar angular momentum evolution, and stellar activity. Another research interest is proto-planetary and planet-forming disks. Topics in this area include the inner accretion disk structure, dust and gas disk sizes, masses, accretion rates, and disk survival times, as a function of stellar mass. Additionally, I am interested in young extra-solar planets especially gas giant and terrestrial planet formation, debris disk generation and evolution, and mature planet detection.

[Image credits: NASA/STScI; Bob Rood]

  • Lynne Hillenbrand
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