Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Starlit Memories Lead Scientist Back to His Roots

09.02.2010
The stars in the night sky over Ziakas in northern Greece still shine brightly in Thanasis Economou’s memory, more than 60 years after he became entranced with them as a child.

That early fascination with the heavens led to a vital role in the study of the solar system for Economou, a Senior Scientist in the Enrico Fermi Institute. But his memories tugged at him again during a trip to Greece two years ago, and led him to propose building an astronomical observatory near his childhood home.

Economou says he hopes to inspire a new generation of children, “so the kids can observe the stars, not with the naked eye like I did in the last century, but with the help of a modern telescope.”

The idea is gaining traction back in Greece. The province of Grevena and the European Union are providing approximately $4.5 million euros ($6.6 million U.S.) in funding for the observatory, preliminary plans are nearly complete, and construction is slated to begin in spring 2010.

From Earth to the Moon

The project has brought Economou, 72, full circle in the country that he had to flee as a child, just as the stars were first capturing his imagination. After a childhood marked by war and dislocation, Economou built his career in physics as an international authority on space science instruments. His work helped lead to devices that have revealed the composition of Earth’s moon, scrutinized the rocks of Mars, analyzed the moons of Saturn, and sifted through the dust of comets.

Economou receives accolades now when he returns to his home province in Greece, but he remembers when it was a dangerous place. “I left Greece in 1948, together with 200 other kids from our village in order to escape the consequences of the civil war that was raging in Greece at that time,” Economou said. He fled to Czechoslovakia via Albania, and his family followed a year later.

Economou completed high school and college in Czechoslovakia, receiving his doctoral degree in physics from Charles University in Prague in 1964. He then joined the research group of the late Anthony Turkevich, the James Franck Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Chemistry.

Turkevich launched Economou on his long career in instrument development for robotic planetary spacecraft. Economou helped Turkevich develop the alpha scattering instrument for the Surveyor V, VI and VII spacecraft that landed on the moon in 1967 and 1968. The instrument revealed the composition of the lunar surface long before the Apollo 11 mission verified their results.

On a Mission or Three

He was later a member of the Mars Pathfinder team, which helped develop and build the Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer for a mission that received the 1998 Achievement Trophy from the National Air and Space Museum. In addition to planning for the new observatory in Greece, Economou currently collaborates on three interplanetary NASA missions:

* Spirit and Opportunity missions to Mars: The two rovers landed on Mars in January 2004. Both rovers carry alpha particle X-ray spectrometers—chemical sensors similar to the one that Economou provided for the Mars Pathfinder rover in 1996. Opportunity’s APXS helped scientists ascertain that some Martian soils were once drenched in water, and it has confirmed the identity of several suspicious rocks as meteorites since 2005. Designed as 90-day missions, the rovers now have operated on the Martian surface for more than six years.

* Cassini mission to Saturn: Economou monitors the performance of the High Rate Detector, which he helped to develop, together with the late John Simpson, the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Physics, and the late Anthony Tuzzolino, a Senior Scientist in the Fermi Institute. In 2005, the instrument detected a cloud of particles around Enceladus, one of Saturn’s icy moons. During a Nov. 21, 2009 flyby of Enceladus, the HRD detected individual jets of water vapor and other particles spewing from fissures in the south polar region.

* Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel-1) mission to a comet: Here again, Economou carries on the work of Simpson’s group, which developed the Dust Flux Monitor Instrument for the Stardust mission. That instrument measured the microscopic dust particle flux coming out from the nucleus of the comet, when Stardust flew within 150 miles of Comet Wild-2 in January 2004. Recommissioned for a new mission, Stardust is now headed for a February 2011 rendezvous with Comet Tempel-1.

“I’m on the phone a large portion of the day in teleconferences planning the activities for all these missions,” Economou says.

All that work is leading to two different kinds of legacy. One is the science that Economou has spearheaded, including precision instruments that will remain for eons in the sands of Mars or the vacuum of space. The other payoff is still to come, when children visit the Greek observatory or log in via the Internet from schools all across Economou’s native country, to view the planets and stars that have inspired him.

| Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://news.uchicago.edu/

Further reports about: COMET Economou Enceladus Mars Martian Winds PathFinder Saturn Stardust Starlit X-ray microscopy

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>