About Me / Contact

Photo by Rick Fienberg
Photo by Rick Fienberg

I’m a scientist at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.

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

Research Interests

My core scientific background is in the field of astrophysics. I’m interested in “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 observational radio astronomy, which is one of my specialties. I’ve done a lot of work with large time-domain radio surveys and am interested in novel radio instrumentation. Some of this work has been motivated by studies of Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) and gravitational wave events.

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, including Hubble, Chandra, and ALMA. I’m interested in the statistical and analytical techniques needed to perform joint analyses of such datasets.

A major reason that I’ve gotten into these areas is that I’m excited by data-intensive, data-driven projects. I built the data management system for the HERA project and overhauled the data infrastructure for DASCH. Beyond task-specific data analysis pipelines and tools, I’m interested in developing astronomy’s data infrastructure and broader efforts to make research data more open and FAIR.

The foundation for this work is my deep experience with open-source software development and research software engineering. I’ve been contributing to open-source software projects for multiple decades and am currently a core member of the conda-forge scientific software packaging project. I am extremely eager to build bridges between the open-source and research software communities, which are often much more separate than you might think.

Broadly speaking, I’m fascinated by the ways that digital technology can transform and improve the practice of science. Some of the largest opportunities that I see are in the systems by which scientific data and knowledge are shared, both among professionals and in society at large. In the realm of formal scholarly publishing, I served as Innovation Scientist in the AAS Publishing group, advising on technology strategy and editing the Bulletin of the AAS. I help moderate submissions to arxiv.org.

My interest in scholarly communication extends beyond the traditional channels. At AAS I was also the Director of the WorldWide Telescope project, 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 remain a major contributor. 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 aims to keep the venerable TeX typesetting system relevant in the 21st century.

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

Short Biography

I did my undergraduate work at Harvard. I obtained my PhD with Geoff Bower at the UC Berkeley Department of Astronomy, where I conducted some of the first scientific studies using the Allen Telescope Array.

In 2012 I came to the CfA to work as a postdoc in the group of Prof. Edo Berger, mainly doing time-domain radio astronomy. From 2018 to 2022 I held a joint appointment as the Innovation Scientist of the CfA and the American Astronomy Society (AAS), and as Director of the WorldWide Telescope project. Since 2023 I’ve been the scientific and technical lead for DASCH.

For lots more, see my CV.


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). I can also be reached on Mastodon as @pkgw@mastodon.world. My postal address and phone number are listed on my CV.

Questions or comments? For better or worse this website isn’t interactive, so send me an email or, uh, Toot me.

To get notified of new posts, try subscribing to my lightweight newsletter or my RSS/Atom feed. No thirsty influencering — you get alerts about what I’m writing; I get warm fuzzies from knowing that someone’s reading!

See a list of all posts.

View the revision history of this page.