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Steve Gillam joined COAS’s Department of Physics in 2013, returning to academia after working as a navigation engineer for 20 years. Gillam majored in aerophysics in the University of London, but it wasn’t until he began his PhD at the University of Wyoming that he discovered the research interest that would stay with him years after he left the university. As a student at Wyoming, Gillam wasn’t sure what he wanted to research until one day when a professor showed him a picture of Messier 92—a globular cluster. Gillam took one look at the simple 2D photograph of the spherical star cluster and was “just hooked” by its beauty.

Although he loved globular clusters and the research he performed at the university, Gillam opted to leave academia after obtaining his PhD and began his career as an engineer, working primarily in jet propulsion and spacecraft navigation. In this capacity, he won multiple NASA Group Achievement Awards and had a stellar career. Yet, Gillam’s interest in globular clusters remained, so when the opportunity to continue the research he had begun in graduate school presented itself, he took it.

At IPFW, Gillam’s research primarily focuses on a single distant globular cluster in the Milky Way. In the video interview, he explains that, while it was traditionally presumed that these spherical clusters of stars were “static, eternally bound objects,” new data from the ultraviolet sensors on the Hubble telescope have changed these assumptions. With this data, astronomers are able to see that globular clusters may actually be remnants of primordial galaxies that have long since evaporated. Gillam’s research centers on examining and exploring the possible origins for these merged pieces of ancient galaxies.

Gillam’s experience in aerodynamics and passion for astronomy made him an ideal addition to the physics program, which added an astronomy minor in 2012. This minor will benefit students who, like Gillam, want to work in the aerospace industry or specialize in aerophysics in graduate programs. Gillam was brought in to help develop the program, both by contributing to the program’s curriculum development and by providing research experience to students who have an interest in studying astronomy. He currently has research assistants working with data from the Hubble telescope. They are using the ultraviolet data to examine star cluster origins and hope to publish the findings. These students are lucky to have Gillam’s experience and enthusiasm at IPFW, and he will no doubt begin to “hook” students with his passion for these “beautiful” clusters.

For more information on Steve Gillam, the astronomy minor, or physics research assistantships, please contact COAS’s Department of Physics.