When Keith Hawkins finishes his three-year stint as a junior fellow in the Simons Society of Fellows, he wants to walk into the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and project onto the dome a picture of the Milky Way that no one has seen before: one in which each point of starlight would be color-coded by its chemistry.
“Imagine color-coding the stars by the amount of magnesium present in their atmospheres. If there are globs of stars with tons of magnesium, they will just pop out immediately. That’s what we call chemical cartography,” says Hawkins, a postdoctoral researcher in astronomy at Columbia University. “My entire research program here as a Simons fellow is designed around being able to do galactic chemical cartography for the first time.”