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  at Cerro Tololo Observatory

Bill Harris

 Professor and FRSC

Department of Physics and Astronomy 
McMaster University 
Hamilton, ON L8S 4M1 

Office:  ABB-316  

Phone:  (905) 525-9140 x 22744 
FAX:    (905) 546-1252 
Research Area: Astrophysics

Grad Students and Postdocs

Research and Teaching


Catalogs and Manuals

Photo Gallery

Recent Talks and Other Stuff

BCG Project

Personal Background

I did my undergraduate degree in mathematics at the University of Alberta, then went to the University of Toronto for grad studies in astronomy. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University, I joined the faculty at McMaster University starting in 1976. I've spent academic research leaves at the Royal Observatory (Edinburgh, Scotland), the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (NRC, Victoria, BC), Kitt Peak National Observatory (NOAO, Arizona), and Mount Stromlo Observatory (RSAA/ANU, Australia).

I was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 2004 and held a Killam Research Fellowship From Jan 2008 to Dec 2009. Contributions to professional community work have included serving as President of the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA), chairing the Board of Directors and the Scientific Advisory Council of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT), the NSERC Grant Selection Commitee for Space and Astronomy, and time allocation panels for the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) . During 1998-2000, I took part in the seven-member Long Range Planning Panel commissioned by NRC/NSERC/CASCA to develop a 10-year plan for the future of Canadian astronomy. In 2010 I was given the Beals Award from the Canadian Astronomical Society.

My wife Gretchen Harris is an astronomer at the University of Waterloo. And for the past 20 years, random strangers have told me that I look like Donald Sutherland!

Astronomer -- or Hollywood star? You pick.

Research and Graduate Teaching

My main interests are in the study of giant elliptical galaxies and the stellar populations in galaxies. I'm fascinated with the beautiful globular star clusters --- the oldest visible entities in galaxies, whose properties yield unique clues to the way galaxies formed. It's also now possible, with imaging from the newest and biggest telescopes, to probe the oldest stars in elliptical galaxies, and to put together their age and heavy-element abundance distributions. My colleagues and students often use observatories and telescopes such as on Mauna Kea (Hawaii), Cerro Tololo (Chile), the Gemini twin 8-meter telescopes in Chile and Hawaii, and the Hubble Space Telescope among others.

I teach graduate courses on observational cosmology, galactic structure, observational techniques, and star clusters. Check out some of my publications and talks.

Undergraduate Teaching

I've taught a wide variety of physics and astronomy courses at all levels. The most recent are:

Physics in the Integrated Science (iSci) program, especially in the first-year integrated course ISCI 1A24.

"The Big Questions" (Astronomy/Origins 2B03): this is a wide-enrolment course open to any undergrad at Level II or higher. Topics include the nature of space and time; the origin and evolution of the cosmos; the origin of the elements; and the origin and evolution of life on Earth. Under its cross-listed name as Origins 2B03, this course can also serve as an entry to the Origins Undergraduate Specialization program in the Faculty of Science.

"The Origin of Structure in the Universe" (Origins 3C03): A course for senior undergraduates in the Origins program, discussing the way that structure and increasing complexity arises through the early universe, galaxies, stars, and planetary systems.

See The Mind of Isaac Newton for a special collaborative Web project that I took part in to explore Newton's work in mathematics, physics, and philosophy. It's aimed at an undergraduate-level general audience.

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