May Symposium 2010

Conference Report

Jason Kalirai,, & Massimo Robberto,

The 2010 May Symposium, “Stellar Populations in the Cosmological Context,” took place at the Institute on May 3–6, and attracted nearly 200 participants. The topic of the symposium was inspired by the enormous progress over the last two decades in two areas: the detailed study of nearby, resolved stellar populations, and the discovery and the characterization of high-redshift galaxies. Furthermore, the new panchromatic capabilities of Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) are now enabling a new leap forward in exciting research related to stellar populations across a diverse range of redshifts. Therefore, the premise of the symposium was that the physical processes and observed characteristics of local stellar populations, observed in a variety of environments, will become a fundamental tool for elucidating the formation, structure, and evolution of galaxies at all cosmic times and distances.

The symposium was a mix of 40 invited and contributed presentations, and 50 shorter presentations, where participants presenting posters were given an opportunity to advertise their work. Over 25% of all time during the meeting was reserved for extended discussions, including summaries at the end of each day led by various members of the scientific organizing committee. The symposium also included a special public talk one evening by astronaut Dr. John Grunsfeld (now the Institute’s Deputy Director) entitled “Hugging Hubble.” The banquet was held at the Maryland Science Center and included a screening of the new “Hubble 3D” IMAX movie.

The symposium started with a review of the latest observational and theoretical findings on the formation of stars and stellar populations. While star formation appears to be ubiquitous in the universe, the process is surprisingly inefficient. A variety of mechanisms (i.e., magnetic fields, turbulence, feedback) have been invoked to explain the high gas/star-mass ratio typically observed in star-forming regions. No one mechanism seems to be dominant, and indeed all may be relevant in certain environments or star-formation phases.