mountain profile Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii

Astronomy Director to Use Award to Investigate Physics of Galaxies

Maintained by LG

For immediate release
April 27, 2010


Dr. Rolf-Peter Kudritzki
Institute for Astronomy
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822

Mrs. Karen Rehbock
Assistant to the Director
Institute for Astronomy
University of Hawaii at Manoa

High-Resolution Photo:

24 Mb eps file


Fabio Bresolin and Kudritzki
Dr. Kudritzki (right) working with one of his collaborators, Dr. Fabio Bresolin. Photo by Karen Teramura.

Dr. Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, director of the University of Hawai‘i Institute for Astronomy, has received a Humboldt Research Award in recognition of his lifetime achievements in research. He will relinquish the IfA directorship at the end of 2010, and he plans to use the award during a 2011 sabbatical in Germany to investigate the physics of galaxies.

During his sabbatical, Kudritzki will use the brightest stars in the universe as tools to dissect galaxies. He will analyze spectra of hundreds of supergiant stars (stars with radii as large as 300 times the sun and a hundred thousand times brighter) in distant galaxies. By applying completely new methods developed with his collaborators, which include UH astronomers Dr. Fabio Bresolin and Dr. Miguel Urbaneja, Kudritzki will be able to use the spectra to determine the chemical compositions of galaxies and their distances from us. For instance, in spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way, the stars in the center have a higher percentage of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium than the stars at the edges of the rotating spiral arms.

Data about the chemical composition of galaxies can be used to test the present theory about how galaxies have formed in an expanding universe that is dominated by cold dark matter (matter that does not interact with any form of light and whose constituent particles move more slowly than light) and dark energy (the mysterious force that is accelerating the expansion of the universe). In fact, chemical composition is one of the very few ways to test this scenario quantitatively. So far, the present knowledge of the chemical composition of spiral galaxies is very uncertain. Kudritzki’s new method will be the first to provide accurate numbers.

“This project is entirely new. Nobody has ever done anything like this, except Fabio, Miguel and me. Thus, I am truly excited and look forward to spending all my energy and time on it. I will use all the largest telescopes in the world for this project, including those on Mauna Kea and in Chile, and also the Hubble Space Telescope,” Kudritzki said.

Humboldt Research Award winners are invited to spend a period of up to one year cooperating on a long-term research project with specialist colleagues at a research institution in Germany. Kudritzki will divide his time between Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching and University Observatory Munich.

UH astronomers David Sanders and J. Patrick Henry are previous winners of Humboldt Research Awards.

Founded in 1967, the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa conducts research into galaxies, cosmology, stars, planets, and the sun. Its faculty and staff are also involved in astronomy education, deep space missions, and in the development and management of the observatories on Haleakala and Mauna Kea.

Established in 1907 and fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the University of Hawaii is the state's sole public system of higher education. The UH System provides an array of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees and community programs on 10 campuses and through educational, training, and research centers across the state. UH enrolls more than 50,000 students from Hawaii, the U.S. mainland, and around the world.