Herbst to Serve as Director of Graduate Studies

Bill Herbst

Bill Herbst, the John Monroe van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, will serve as director of graduate studies, beginning this fall 2011 through spring 2014.

Herbst received his B.A degree from Princeton University, his M. Sc. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Toronto and has taught at Wesleyan since 1978, often serving as chair of the Astronomy Department and as director of the Van Vleck Observatory. In 2003, he received the Wesleyan Alumni Association’s Binswanger Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has recently served on the Advisory Committee, as chair of the Merit Committee, as vice-chair of RAB and, over the years, on many other faculty committees including the Faculty Planning Committee and as chair of the Student Affairs Committee.

As an astronomer who studies the formation and evolution of young stars and protoplanetary disks, his discoveries have been featured prominently in the journals of his field as well as the popular press. He is particularly known for his work on T Tauri stars, sun-like stars surrounded by disks in which the formation of planets is either already proceeding or imminent. With collaborators at the Max Planck Institute in Germany he has led the world in the discovery of rotation rates of young stars and elucidated the rotation history of sun-like stars from their earliest times. His work has been presented in many venues including the prestigious Protostars and Planets V conference hosted at the University of Hawaii in 2007.

In 1995, with graduate student Kristin Kearns, he discovered, based on observations at Wesleyan, a unique star system now known as KH 15D whose behavior continues to astound astronomers, while informing studies of terrestrial planet formation. In collaboration with his (physics) Ph.D. student Catrina Hamilton, now a faculty member at Dickinson College, he has continued to observe this object with instruments including the world’s largest optical telescopes in Hawaii and Chile and space-based telescopes including Hubble. A 2008 paper to Nature summarized the accumulated evidence that the first steps of planet formation are well underway in this system, leading to widespread press coverage including articles in The New York Times.

Herbst is the primary or contributing author of more than 250 publications in the astronomical literature and has received continuous grant support for his research from either the NSF or NASA, through its Origins of Solar Systems program, since 1982. He is also the Principal Investigator of an NSF grant that supports the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium, a group of eight institutions including Wesleyan that has supported an astronomy research program for undergraduates since 1990. Other service to the professional community has included many NSF and NASA review panels and service on several visiting committees at institutions across the country, including the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

“I am grateful to David Bodznick, dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Ishita Mukerji, current director of graduate studies, for their advice and support as I considered this appointment,” says Rob Rosenthal, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, the John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology. “Ishita Mukerji deserves much appreciation for her service and contributions as director of graduate studies.”