About Me / Contact

Photo by Rick Fienberg
Photo by Rick Fienberg

I’m the Innovation Scientist of the Center for Astrophysics and the American Astronomical Society. I’m also Director of the AAS WorldWide Telescope project. My astrophysical research focuses on the magnetism of other stars and planets, large surveys, and the techniques of radio interferometry.

As Innovation Scientist, my job is to make other astronomers’ jobs easier. The new technologies of the 21st century present an enormous opportunity to improve all aspects of the research enterprise — but working scientists don’t have the time to chase every new fad that comes out of Silicon Valley. I try to promote and build tools that help astronomers do their research faster and better.

I’ve always been interested in computers and scientific communication, and I’m particular keen to explore the intersection between the two. The WorldWide Telescope is a first-class example of how the graphics technologies developed for the Web can make it easy for researchers to develop beautiful, bespoke visualizations. I write my talks in HTML which allows me to include fancy interactive animations. I have spent more time in the guts of TeX than any person really ought to, including launching the Tectonic Project, which extends and reworks TeX in some key ways with the goal of providing the 21st-century typesetting system for technical documents — both print and electronic — that scientists, engineers, and in fact everyone deserves.

My astrophysics research focuses on “extrasolar magnetospheres” — the magnetic fields of cool bodies beyond the Solar System. My work has shown that very small stars and also “brown dwarfs,” the balls of gas that are between stars and planets in size, have magnetic fields that are quite similar to the ones we find planets around Earth and Jupiter — they’re just hundreds of times stronger! These magnetic fields are essential ingredients in understanding habitability, drive a rich phenomenology of space plasma physics, and tell us about the internal structure of these bodies. It turns out that the best way to probe these magnetospheres is with the tools of radio astronomy, one of my longstanding areas of interest. My research often combines data from across the electromagnetic spectrum, however, including observations in the infrared, optical, ultraviolet, and X-ray taken with a whole host of observatories, from Hubble to Chandra to ALMA.

My other astrophysics research has included large surveys of the radio sky, Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), gravitational wave events, and a little bit of exoplanets. Before becoming the Innovation Scientist, I was a postdoc in the group of Prof. Edo Berger here at the CfA; before that, I was obtaining my PhD with Geoff Bower at the UC Berkeley Department of Astronomy.

Because there are a lot of P. Williamses out there, I try to go by Peter K. G. Williams in my publications.

I also do things that aren’t science! But this isn’t the website for talking about that.

Contact

My CfA office is M-303 at 160 Concord. My work email address is pwilliams@cfa.harvard.edu (though it just forwards to my personal address, peter@newton.cx). My postal address and phone number are listed on my CV.