NASA Astrophysicist Alice K. Harding ’73 to Open Summer Series of Lectures by Prominent Women in Science

Posted June 23rd, 2011 at 10:39 am.

alice_hardingAstrophysicist Alice K. Harding ’73 of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center will open the 2011 Ann Lutes Johnson Lecture Series on Thursday, June 30, at 4 p.m. in the Ely Room of Wyndham Alumnae House. Harding’s talk, titled “Uncovering the Secrets of Pulsars,” will explore new discoveries made possible by the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope, which was launched in 2008.

The Ann Lutes Johnson Lecture Series brings prominent women who work in scientific fields to speak at Bryn Mawr during the summer months. It is sponsored by Bryn Mawr’s Summer Science Research Program, which provides 35-40 students with ten-week research stipends to conduct independent research under the guidance of Bryn Mawr faculty members in the sciences and mathematics. The summer program is enriched by professional-development workshops and a poster session at which students present their research to the college community. Significant funding for the program is provided by a gift from Ann Lutes Johnson ’58.

This summer, the series will also offer talks by Melanie Wallace (Wednesday, July 13), a producer with the PBS television show NOVA, and Nancy Craig ’73 (Thursday, July 21), a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellow and molecular biologist at the Johns Hopkins University. All lectures are free and open to the public, and each will be followed by an informal reception.

Uncovering the Secrets of Pulsars

“Of the several thousand pulsars that have been discovered by radio telescopes over the past forty years, only a handful were known to emit gamma-ray pulsations before the launch in June 2008 of the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope,”  Harding says.

“Almost as soon as Fermi was turned on, new gamma-ray pulsar discoveries began,” she continues, “and after three years of operation, the number of known gamma-ray pulsars has increased by over a factor of ten. A surprising fraction of these have been discovered through their gamma-ray pulsations alone. The pulsations had not been seen before at any other wavelength but are coming from the locations of many previously unidentified Galactic gamma-ray sources.  For the first time, millisecond pulsars have been confirmed as powerful sources of gamma-ray emission, and a whole population of these objects is seen with the Fermi.”

“From these new discoveries, we have learned that the gamma rays are not emitted in narrow  ‘lighthouse’ beams but in very large fan beams that can be seen from virtually all directions.  Gamma-ray observations may thus provide a unique capability to understand the physics of pulsars and to uncover hidden neutron stars that are the compact remnants of supernova explosions,” Harding concludes.

About Alice K. Harding

Harding has been an astrophysicist in the Astrophysics Science Division at Goddard Space Flight Center since 1980, after receiving a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1979.  Her interests include pulsars, highly magnetized neutron stars (magnetars), gamma-ray bursts and supernova remnants.  She has been modeling gamma-ray pulsars for 30 years and wrote one of the first papers in this field.  She is a fellow of the American Physical Society and was awarded a NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement for her work in 1994.  Presently a member of the Fermi collaboration, she served as science coordinator for Galactic Sources from 2007 – 2009.

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