WMU News

Global cooling discussed by visiting astrophysicist

Feb. 29, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- Most people have heard of global warming, but what about global cooling? What is it and how does it affect the earth?

Those questions will be addressed by a Harvard astrophysicist who will visit Western Michigan University on Wednesday and Thursday, March 8 and 9, as part of the University's Visiting Scholars and Artists Program.

Dr. Kate Kirby, acting director of the Institute for Theoretical Atomic and Molecular Physics (ITAMP) at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, will present a free public lecture on "Global Cooling in the Earth's Upper Atmosphere: Why? And Should We Care?" at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 9, in Room 1104 of Rood Hall. A reception will follow in Room 2202 of Everett Tower.

According to Kirby, over the past century, increasing amounts of carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere and most people attribute global warming to that fact. However, in the upper atmosphere, which is 10 miles above the earth's surface, this carbon dioxide acts as a coolant.

"This buildup of carbon dioxide actually lowers the upper atmosphere's temperature," she says. "Cooling in the upper atmosphere does not reduce the effect of global warming. We will discuss the reason for this cooling, recent evidence of it and how it can affect us."

Kirby will also present a physics colloquium addressing "Molecule Formation in Dilute Gases, from the Early Universe to Bose-Einstein Condensates" at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8, in Room 1110 of Rood Hall.

In addition to being the acting director of the ITAMP, Kriby is also associate director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, heading the atomic and molecular physics division, a post she has held since 1988. She received a bachelor's degree from Radcliffe College, and master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago. Following her studies, she served a postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard College Observatory and was appointed as a research physicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. She has also been a lecturer in Harvard University's Department of Astronomy.

Kirby's research interests lie in the area of theoretical molecular physics, including the calculation of atomic and molecular processes important in astrophysics and atmospheric physics. She has been a member of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Review Panel for Laboratory Astrophysics as well as the Smithsonian Institute Advisory Committee on Global Change. She also has served as secretary-treasurer of the Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics of the American Physical Society.

Kirby's visit is sponsored by the Department of Physics and the College of Arts and Sciences. For more information, contact Dr. Nora Berrah, associate professor of physics, at (616) 387-4955.

The Visiting Scholars and Artists Program was established in 1960 and has supported some 500 visits by scholars and artists representing more than 65 academic disciplines. The chair of the committee which oversees the program is Dr. James M. Hillenbrand, professor of speech pathology and audiology.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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