Focus on the faculty: Robin Shelton

woman with large telescope and student, photo


Professor of physics and astronomy Robin Shelton discovers and shares knowledge about the galaxy that we call home:

How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?

I explain my research to people outside of my field by saying that I study the gas between the stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. By gas, I don't mean gasoline, I mean that the material is gaseous, like air. Those statements might start a yawn in the backs of their heads, so I follow them up by saying that the stars in our galaxy were made from gas. Thus, essentially, our galaxy was made from gas (plus dark matter). Also, our galaxy is still growing because giant clouds of gas are falling into it.

The scope of my research is fairly wide — it includes studies of infalling clouds, the bubbles that are blown by exploding stars, a large bubble of hot gas surrounding the solar neighborhood, the hot gas that blankets the disk of the Milky Way and forms a buffer between our galaxy and intergalactic space, and X-ray signals from space, as well as computer simulations, and analyses of X-ray and UV observations of the gas in our galaxy.

The impact of my research is that it has moved forward our understanding of the galaxy in which we live.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?

Students greatly enjoy when I tell them about the newest astronomical discoveries. Some of that information is learned at scientific meetings that I attend as part of my research and scholarship duties.

Probably, my scientific presentations have benefited from practices that I learned while teaching. There is a lot of detail in science, and it can be fun to roll around in it. But as a result of practices I learned while teaching, I try to make my presentations give precedence to the big picture and the arc of my narrative or logic rather than leading with the details.

The UGA Observatory is one of the university's special places - a wonderful experience on certain occasions to look up and away, far beyond our usual purview. Dr. Shelton's great work coordinating this resource, coupled with her research and teaching, creates a blend of public service with science that is at once moving and edifying.