Evening of Science with Dr. Adam Burrows ’71

Astrophysicist Adam Burrows ’71 treated Loomis Chaffee students and faculty to a lively discussion of the tools created by and for scientists in the study of core-collapse supernovae on Wednesday, November 10.  

Organized by Loomis Chaffee’s Physics and Astronomy Club, the event took place via Zoom videoconference. 

Adam’s primary research is in supernovae theory, exoplanet and brown dwarf theory, planetary atmospheres, computational astrophysics, and nuclear astrophysics. He has written numerous fundamental and influential papers and reviews on these subjects. 

During the evening program, Adam shared a presentation in which he communicated the excitement of his research and the importance of creating strong three-dimensional models and simulations of a collapsing star. These models, he said, help us to better understand the collapse and subsequent explosion of supernovae, or massive stars.  

“The explosion and collapse of a supernova are two of the most violent events in nature,” he said. They occur “a few times a second in the universe, but only once in 50 years in our galaxy.” Because these events occur so infrequently in the Milky Way, the importance of creating models is crucial for scientists to study and begin to understand their nature, he said.  

The explosions are also a central player in the evolution and character of galaxies and the universe. When a massive star explodes, the oxygen, iron, fluoride, calcium, and other elements disperse and litter the interstellar medium, explained Adam.  

Adam also spoke about the birth of smaller stars, which form in the wake of the collapse of supernovae, and the creation of black holes. He peppered his talk with exciting images of both the three-dimensional models used to study these phenomena and fascinating sound recordings of the explosions.  

After graduating from Loomis, Adam earned his undergraduate degree in physics from Princeton University and his doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a full professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton, the director of the Princeton Planets and Life Certificate Program, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.  

The virtual talk was organized by Lillie Szemraj, Physics and Astronomy Club president, and facilitated by Science Department Head Neil Chaudhary ’05.