A star is born - inaugural lecture

Posted on 03 April 2012

A leading astrophysicist at Keele University will question whether we are alone in the Universe when he delivers the latest lecture in the University’s series of professorial Inaugural Lectures for 2011 – 2012 on Tuesday, 17 April, 2012. Professor Robin Jeffries, Astrophysics at Keele, will be speaking on “A star is born”.

The Sun dominates our solar system and supplies the energy required for life-on-Earth. The age and fate of the Sun are now well understood, but its formation and the necessary conditions for the formation of our solar system and an environment suitable for carbon-based life are much less clear. In this lecture Professor Jeffries will outline the basic steps in the formation of a star like the Sun and discuss what recent observations tell us about such a star's early life and how unusual (or common) our solar system is. He will explore whether the properties of our Sun and solar system tell us anything about their early history and where in the Galaxy and in what environment they were born. Professor Jeffries will conclude by speculating on what all this means in our quest to determine whether other planets like Earth exist and whether we are alone in the Universe.

Rob Jeffries is an astrophysicist specialising in observational studies of the early lives of stars like the Sun and those of lower masses. He started his career at Birmingham University where, after completing a PhD in X-ray astronomy (in 1991), he became a PPARC-funded postdoctoral research associate on the ROSAT X-ray telescope project. He branched out into optical and infrared astronomy when it became apparent that many of the bright X-ray sources had no counterpart at visible wavelengths and many of these turned out to be the young stars that have formed most of his work since.

Professor Jeffries came to Keele as a lecturer in 1995, was promoted to a readership in 2001 and to a chair in 2010. He has won a number of large research grants from PPARC (now STFC), much competitively sought-after time on the world's largest telescopes, and is the first author of 40 peer-reviewed academic journal papers. His current research surrounds the early lives of stars like the Sun and the evolution of their circumstellar environments. He is a member of the steering group for the largest ever spectroscopic survey of stars, to be carried out over the next 5 years with the European Southern Observatory's "Very Large Telescope".  He also has a sustained interest in public understanding of physics and astrophysics, organising many "adult education" courses at Keele and visiting many local schools with a portable planetarium.

Keele's programme of Inaugural Lectures are given by newly established professors within the University and aim to give an illuminating account of the speaker's own subject specialism. The lectures, which start at 6 pm in the Westminster Theatre, are chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nick Foskett. Admission is free; no ticket is required.

The other lectures in the series are:

Tuesday, 8 May, 2012, Professor Carole Thornley, Management, "Why are the low-paid always with us?";

Monday, 11 June,  2012, Professor Andy Hassell, Medicine, "The patient with arthritis, the medical student and the rheumatologist: influencing tomorrow's doctors".