Elizabeth Tasker

I am an associate professor in the Department of Solar System Science at ISAS / JAXA.

My research focusses on exploring galaxy, star and planet formation using numerical simulations. The code I predominantly use is 'Enzo': an adaptive mesh refinement simulation code for calculating gas evolution.


Research

The coldest gas in our galaxy forms extended structures known at the Giant Molecular Clouds. These are the nurseries for the stellar population and their properties --such as mass, density, size and internal velocities-- control where and when stars are born. But what controls the evolution of these clouds?

High resolution simulations of galaxy discs suggest that a star-forming cloud does not lead a quiet existence. Instead, regular collisions and interactions with neighbouring clouds --often encouraged by the spiral and bar structures-- dominate the cloud's evolution. It is possible that such interactions even control the star formation rate, creating dense shock fronts where massive stars or clusters can form. Studying these occurrences both in global simulations (whole galaxy) or single cloud collisions forms a major area of research for my group.

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Another key area of research is planet formation. Planets form in discs of dust and gas that circle young stars by the steady collision of smaller particles. During a new planetary system's later evolution, the new worlds may be bombarded by the remaining rocky planetesimals of sizes akin to our asteroid belt. Does such a bombardment leave observational signatures? Or can we only infer its action from theoretical models?

Outreach

My general science articles have appeared in a number of media publications including 'Scientific American', 'Astronomy Magazine', 'Nautilus', 'The Conversation', 'IFLScience' and 'Physics Focus'. A complete bibliography can be found on my personal webpage.

My popular science book, 'The Planet Factory', on exoplanet discoveries has been commissioned by Bloomsbury Sigma, with a provisional publication date of autumn 2017.

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I've given a number of public lectures on topics that include JAXA's Hayabusa2 mission to the asteroids (A TEDx talk), NASA's New Horizon mission to Pluto, a general overview of my group's research and a (hopefully) inspiring astronomy talk for school children.

The talk I gave at Otaru University of Commerce on my research [is available here] while my TEDx talk on Hayabusa2 is below.

Teaching

From 2012 - 2016, I taught two undergraduate physics courses at Hokkaido Univeristy. These lectures covered core physics topics for first year undergraduates, including classical mechanics, vibrations, waves, optics, thermaldynamics, electromagnetism and a touch of quantum mechanics.

Since most of my students were not native-level English speakers, my courses used powerpoint presentations that include many graphics and movies. I also used the clicker system for in-class questions (keeps students awake and allows me a 5 minute break!). Three or four times during the semester, we watched short movies and read science news stories to see physics beyond the first year syllabus.

I was delighted to be awards the 'Hokkaido University President's Award for Education' in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and be listed as an 'Excellent Teacher' for those last three years.

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