Star and Planet Formation Research Group
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Research Groups
Michael R. Meyer

Research Interests

Origins of Stars, Planets, and Life; Galactic and Infrared Astronomy

One of the fundamental problems in the formation of stars is understanding the origin of stellar masses, and the corresponding initial mass function. Are stellar masses fixed by a self-regulating process, resulting in a truly universal IMF? Or do initial conditions determine the emergent mass distribution of a forming stellar cluster? We have embarked on a program combining near-infrared photometry and IR spectroscopy in order to constrain the ratio of high to low mass stars as well as the ratio of stars to sub-stellar objects in young clusters of stars found in a variety of star-forming environments from nearby star-forming regions, to extreme regions of star formation in the Milky Way galaxy and throughout the local group. Our goal is to characterize stellar mass distributions of different regions, comparing them both with each other and with the field star IMF, and determine whether; i) different conditions are required for the formation of high and low mass stars; ii) the mass function of young clusters continues to rise beyond the hydrogen burning limit; and iii) emergent mass distributions depend sensitively on initial conditions.

Equally important is the understanding the evolution of circumstellar disks. Such disks, thought to be the pre-cursors of planetary systems, appear to be a common by-product of the star formation process. By studying circumstellar gas and dust around young stars as a function of stellar mass and age we can hope to; i) estimate the timescale for dissipation of circumstellar material around young stars as a function of radius; and ii) gain some physcial insight into the nature of this dissipation process thus providing observational constraints on theories of planet formation. We are leading ground- and space-based observational programs to help address fundamental questions concerning whether planetary systems like our own are common or rare among sun-like stars in the disk of the Milky Way.

Combining results from on-going research into star and planet formation, astronomers can provide important boundaries on the prospects for life developing elsewhere in the Universe. The origin, evolution, and prevalence of life in the Universe are central to the emerging interdisciplinary study of Astrobiology. Using ground- and space-based telescopes from the far-ultraviolet to the sub-millimeter, we are engaged in an astronomical search for the essential ingredients of life.

Finally, members of our group are involved in developing techniques and instrumentation for ground- and space-based infrared astronomy as well as maintain interest in reformed teaching practices in science education.

On-going instrumentation projects

I have recently participated in proposal teams to build wide-field IR cameras for the MMT and LBT. I am the Star Formation Theme Lead for the JWST NIRCAM Instrument Science Team), as well as the Canadian FGS/TFI Instrument Science Team. I serve as a member of a funded NASA exoplanet mission proposal study proposal team (PECO), as well as member of the galactic science team for one of the "Dark Energy" ESA Cosmic Vision studies. For the past five years, I served on the Science Working Group for the Giant Magellan Telescope project. Members of the group play a key role in the building high contrast imaging systems for the ESO VLT (SPHERE) as well as development efforts for future instrumentation for the E-ELT. Current interests include development of thermal IR imaging systems for the direct detection of extra-solar planets, as well as spectral imaging systems to study resolved stellar populations in local group galaxies.

Recent Publications

Link to an interactive bibliography of ADS published papers

Teaching

More about my teaching activities here.

Curriculum Vitae

Education
Washington University in St. Louis (USA), A.B. in Physics, 1989.
University of Missouri-St. Louis (USA), M.S. in Physics, 1991.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst (USA), Ph.D. in Astronomy, 1996.

Employment
2009 - present : Professor, ETH Zurich
2006 - 2009 : Associate Professor/Astronomer, Department of Astronomy/ Steward Observatory, The University of Arizona (USA)
2000 - 2006 : Assistant Professor/Astronomer, Department of Astronomy/ Steward Observatory, The University of Arizona (USA)
1997 - 2000 : Postdoctoral Fellow, Steward Observatory, The University of Arizona (USA)
1995 - 1997 : Scientific Staff, Max-Planck-Institut fuer Astronomie, Heidelberg (Germany)

Recent activities
2006 - present - American Astronomical Society Committee on Public Policy
2001 - present - James Webb Space Telescope NIRCam Project
2003 - present - James Webb Space Telescope FGS/TFI Project
2003 - 2008 - Giant Magellan Telescope Science Working Group
2003 - 2008 - Deputy-PI LAPLACE Node of NASA Astrobiology Institute
2001 - 2006 - PI, Formation & Evolution of Planetary Systems Spitzer Legacy Science Project

Awards
2007 - 2008 : Visiting Fellow, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
2007 : Blitzer Award for Excellence in Teaching, College of Science, The University of Arizona
2003 - 2006 : Cottrell Scholar, Research Corporation, Tucson, AZ (USA)
1997 - 2000 : Hubble Fellowship, Space Telescope Science Institute