St. Louis’ Academy of Science to honor Will and Buckley

The Academy of Science of St. Louis will honor two University physicists at the 10th annual Outstanding St. Louis Scientists Awards Dinner at 6:30 p.m. April 1 at The Westin St. Louis hotel, 811 Spruce St.

Clifford Will
Clifford Will

Clifford M. Will, Ph.D., professor and former chair of the Department of Physics in Arts & Sciences, and James H. Buckley, Ph.D., associate professor of physics, are among the eight men and women the academy is honoring for their exceptional accomplishments in science, engineering and educational outreach furthering understanding of the sciences.

The Fellows Award, which honors active scientists who excel in communicating to colleagues, future scientists and the general public, will be given to Will.

Buckley will receive the academy’s Innovation Award, which recognizes a scientist under 40 who is at the forefront of scientific innovation.

Benjamin F. Abell, professor of meteorology in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Saint Louis University, will be the featured speaker at the dinner, which will benefit the Junior Academy of Science of St. Louis. Abell, who can be heard on KWMU-FM, will discuss “Climate and Weather Influences on Wildfire Behavior.”

For ticket information, call the academy at 533-8083.

Making Einstein accessible

Will, known worldwide as one of the leading experts in using experimental and observational data to explain Einstein’s theory of general relativity, will receive the Fellows Award for making Einstein’s theory accessible to the public and for making a significant impact on the public understanding of science.

James Buckley
James Buckley

His 1986 book on Einstein’s theory of general relativity and the experiments designed to test it made The New York Times Christmas Books list that year. The book, Was Einstein Right? won the highly coveted American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award, which is given annually to the best popular science book. A second edition was published in 1993, and at last count, it has been translated into 10 languages.

Will, who is on sabbatical leave in Paris this year but will attend the dinner, has been referred to as one of the best lecturers in physics, engaging, entertaining and informing his audience on general relativity, black holes and cosmology.

Will pioneered the development of theoretical techniques for comparing general relativity with other gravitational theories. His monograph Theory and Experiment in Gravitational Physics is considered the bible of the field.

He carried out pioneering calculations that showed how precise observations of a binary system of two neutron stars could provide new and stringent tests of general relativity, and so confirmed the existence of gravitational radiation.

This work was recognized by an invitation from the Nobel Committee to attend the 1993 Nobel Prize ceremonies honoring the discoverers of the binary system.

He also pioneered the calculation of ultra-precise formulas for the gravitational-wave signal from merging neutron stars and black holes.

“These formulae will play a central role in the analysis of data from a recently completed worldwide network of laser-interferometric gravitational-wave observatories,” said Carl M. Bender, Ph.D., professor of physics and winner of the 2002 Fellows Award. “These are expected to yield the first direct detection of gravitational radiation during the next decade.”

Forefront of scientific innovation

As scientists are building ever-larger telescopes and succeeding in guiding Mars rovers to send detailed information on the distant planet, Buckley has made several innovative breakthroughs that enable astrophysicists to see the universe more clearly in the ultra-high-energy domain of the photon spectrum.

He is playing a leading role in a major international collaboration and is a member of the multi-institution Whipple Observatory Collaboration, dedicated to ground-based studies of celestial objects that shine brightly in gamma rays of very high energies.

A founding member of the VERITAS project, the successor to Whipple, Buckley is the astrophysicist responsible for the essential technological breakthrough — Flash-Analog-to-Digital Converter — that gives VERITAS the edge over new gamma-ray telescopes around the world.

Working closely with Daniel J. Leopold, Ph.D., research associate professor in physics, Buckley is developing a new class of solid-state detectors for high-efficiency detection of very low levels of optical and ultraviolet light.

The improved detectors are expected to have significant applications in experimental physics as well as biomedical research.

In another project, Buckley has worked with a team to construct the Antipodal Transient Observatory. Two 0.5-meter optical telescopes are situated on opposite sides of the Earth, one in the Himalayas and the other in Arizona.

For the first time, these telescopes enable nearly continuous monitoring of gamma-ray sources that are visible in the spectrum. From these, correlations can be established.

“He does not confine himself to problems that he can tackle with the instrumentation he has been using,” said John W. Clark, Ph.D., the Wayman Crow Professor and chair of physics. “He determines what instrumentation is needed by the physics of the problem, and designs and builds it himself, when necessary.

“He has had a central role in observations of a subspecies of active galaxies that led to the discovery of markarian 501 and other sources of TeV gamma rays,” Clark added.