Andrea Lommen Appointed to Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics
The professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy will help shape the next decade of astrophysics research in the United States as a member of the Panel on Particle Astrophysics and Gravitation.
Every 10 years, a group of leading experts in physics and astronomy gather to determine the future of mankind—or, at least, the future of how mankind studies the universe. Sponsored by NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy, the Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics (Astro2020) makes decisions over a six-month period about how policymakers, federal agencies, and the scientific community should approach their research in the field for the next 10 years.
As a member of the Panel on Particle Astrophysics and Gravitation (PAG), Haverford Professor and Chair of Physics and Astronomy Andrea Lommen will be applying her expertise on gravitational wave detection and pulsar-timing capabilities to this leadership role.
Lommen and her fellow panelists will be reading white papers, which are concise descriptions of or proposals to address large-scale problems written by collaborations, or organizations who feel their research should be considered a priority for the study of astrophysics.
"We have to figure out how to prioritize the projects in a way that is best for the future of the field and the future of humanity,” said Lommen. “I suppose it sounds a little bold to say this has to do with the future of humanity, but I really do think that I as an astrophysicist am in the business of satisfying our deepest human desires to understand the world we live in. So I believe deeply that giving funding appropriately will have ripples—no pun intended—in how we experience ourselves as humans.”
Lommen is only the third professor from any private undergraduate institution nationwide to be appointed to one of the Decadal Survey’s panels, and Haverford Emeritus Professor of Astronomy Bruce Partridge was the second.
"It's kind of remarkable that our field does this every 10 years, and I'm honored to be a part of it,” she said. “The conversations that I will be engaged in over the next six months will decide the priorities for funding in this area, so I can really shape the future of the field.”
The Astro2020 survey is particularly exciting for scientists like Lommen because of recent breakthroughs in the detection and study of gravitational waves. As a PAG panelist during this unique historical moment, Lommen is certainly taking a giant leap for mankind.
"This is a really exciting time for the field, since gravitational waves were only detected for the first time three years ago, so the field is absolutely exploding with energy and knowledge,” she said. “This moment in science is in some ways analogous to the moment Galileo turned his telescope to the sky and started unraveling what he saw. It was the first time we, as humans, used the electromagnetic spectrum to study the universe. Now, right now, is the first time we, as humans, are using the gravitational wave spectrum to study the universe.”