Chevalier to be Honored at Caltech Astronomy Workshop

July 14, 2009 — A "Festival of Cosmic Explosions" will celebrate a career of contributions and accomplishments by University of Virginia astronomer Roger Chevalier. The California Institute of Technology, where Chevalier began a stellar career in astronomy as an undergraduate, will host the event Aug. 21-23.

The celebration will center on a workshop for astronomers with a particular interest in supernovae, the exploding stars that are the largest source of energy for gas in common galaxies, such as the Milky Way.

Chevalier is considered one of the premier researchers into supernovae. He is the W.H. Vanderbilt Professor of Astronomy in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He earned his Ph.D. in 1973 at Princeton University and this year celebrates his 60th birthday.

"He's one of the top theorists in astrophysics," said U.Va. astronomy department chair John Hawley. "Roger has made substantial and fundamental contributions to our understanding of supernovae and their interactions with their environments within galaxies. He's also had a positive impact on his colleagues and students, and so it is
fitting that he is being honored in this way."

Chevalier's colleagues, former students and postdoctoral fellows organized the three-day workshop as a tribute.

The workshop will focus on current research into gamma ray bursts, circumstellar interaction in supernovae, shock physics and supernovae remnants and pulsar wind nebulae.

"Roger's 60th birthday is a reason to celebrate his career and to honor him personally, and it is an opportunity to hold a conference on this particular area of research," said Vikram Dwarkadas, a senior researcher in astronomy at the University of Chicago who earned his Ph.D. in 1996 under Chevalier.

Dwarkadas, who helped organize the workshop, co-authored three research papers with Chevalier while a graduate student at U.Va.

"The first of those papers, which provided a new interpretation of the emission from a particular supernova [SN1987A], remains my most referenced piece of research," Dwarkadas said. "In fact, all three have been cited numerous times. Each was on a different topic, which points to how much I was able to learn and accomplish while working with Roger. I continue to maintain contact with him and am always able to discuss new ideas with him."

The workshop honoring Chevalier will be the first event held at Caltech's new Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics.

"In addition to being an outstanding astronomer," Hawley noted, "Roger also is a great guy to work with – both extremely bright and easygoing."

And what does Chevalier say?

"I'm honored that my colleagues are recognizing my scientific contributions with this workshop," he said in an e-mail. "I'm looking forward to meeting with former students and collaborators, and to discussing where these science topics will go from here."

— By Fariss Samarrai