Shrinivas R. (Shri) Kulkarni

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Science; Director, Caltech Optical Observatories
M.S., Indian Institute of Technology, 1978; Ph.D., University of California, 1983; D.h.c., Radboud University. Millikan Research Fellow in Radio Astronomy, Caltech, 1985-87; Assistant Professor of Astronomy, 1987-90; Associate Professor, 1990-92; Professor, 1992-96; Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Science, 1996-2001; MacArthur Professor, 2001-. Executive Officer for Astronomy, 1997-2000. Director, 2006-.

I like to focus on a field for a period of three to five years and then move on. I also like to develop new techniques, novel instruments and methodologies. Finally, I avoid working on popular fields. Given these boundary conditions, I let my graduate students choose their research topics.

Over time I have wandered from the study of Galactic interstellar, millisecond pulsars, pulsars in globular clusters, brown dwarfs, soft gamma-ray repeaters, gamma-ray bursts and cosmic explosions. I have a life-long interest in interferometry having developed a 10-km radio linked interferometer at Arecibo Observatory (during my youth). This interest has now culminated in the Space Interferometry Mission (for which I am the Interdisciplinary Scientist and Chairman, Science Team). My main focus with this mission is a broad survey for planets and astrophysics enabled by precision astrometry.

Credit: NASA/STScI

I think that the next big area is transient object astronomy (mainly because of tremendous technological growth in sensors and computing). I am the Principal Investigator of the Palomar Transient Factory – an innovative project based around the Palomar 48-inch Oschin Schmidt and the automated Palomar 60-inch telescope and designed to explore the transient sky. Within the first semester of first light we discovered a new class of ultra-bright supernovae (which we dub as "spasmanova"). Likely these arise from very massive stars. The future for transient object astronomy is bright and exciting.

I love music and like my research I switch my focus every few years. I have successively been a fan of Salsa, Qawali, Latin Jazz and music from Mali. I am a great student of macro-finance and especially financial meltdowns. Finally, I love rabbits since they best reflect my personality.

[Image credits: Bob Paz; NASA/STScI]

  • Shri Kulkarni
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