Jason Kalirai is a Canadian-born astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore MD. His research program is aimed at studying the formation and evolution of stars in nearby galaxies, including our own Milky Way galaxy. Jason's research is based on establishing new insights on these populations, through ultra-sensitive imaging and spectroscopic observations with the world's best telescopes. He is a frequent user of the 10-meter Keck Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, as well as the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit around Earth. By measuring the detailed properties of these local stars, Jason is able to establish critical dependencies between the stellar characteristics (e.g., mass, age, metallicity) and the output observables (e.g., luminosities and colors). This astrophysical connection represents an important anchor in our ability to interpret light from the Universe. After all, we see galaxies as collections of billions of individual stars!
In addition to his research program, Jason is also the Project Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope. Webb is the successor to the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, and will provide us with our most sensitive eye to view the Universe. Through many new technologies, the telescope represents a greater than 100 times improvement over current capabilities. Webb will revolutionize our understanding of the Universe, and re-write textbooks on astronomy.
Before joining the Space Telescope Science Institute in 2008, Jason was a Hubble Fellow postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) from 2005. At UCSC, Jason worked closely with students and other postdoctoral researchers on leading stellar and galactic astrophysical research projects. For example, their group at UCSC discovered that the Andromeda Spiral Galaxy, our nearest large neighbor in the Universe, is about five times larger than previous studies had shown. These observations have helped shaped our fundamental knowledge on how galaxies form and grow through mergers. Jason obtained his PhD from the University of British Columbia in 2004. His thesis was titled "Astrophysics with White Dwarfs", and addressed a number of important questions related to stellar evolution, stellar populations, and Galactic dark matter.
Jason has received numerous awards for his research. In 2013, Jason received the American Astronomical Society's Newton Lacy Pierce prize, for oustanding achievements in observational astronomy over the past five years. Jason was also selected by the Maryland Academy of Sciences as Maryland's Outstanding Young Scientist in 2013.
Jason was born and grew up in a small town called Quesnel, in the province of British Columbia in Canada. Quesnel is primarily a logging community, located about 8 hours north of Vancouver towards central British Columbia. His father moved there from India in the early 1970s and went to work at a local Plywood plant. Jason's mother also worked, and took care of him, his older brother, and his younger sister.
As a kid, Jason enjoyed looking at the dark night sky from Quesnel, free of light pollution in larger cities. He was interested in the size and make up of the Universe at a very early age. He placed posters of the Solar neighborhood in his bedroom and frequently read books about astronomy. Through grade school, Jason fell in love with mathematics and began sharpening his focus in this universal language. To him, mathematics was simple and elegant, and capable of explaining everything if the correct equations were used. Jason began taking physics classes in high school, and came to the realization at age 14 that one could apply all of these tools that he was learning to explain the Universe's formation, evolution, and content. He had discovered astrophysics as a profession.
Following graduation from high school, Jason entered into the Honors Physics & Astronomy program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He completed his BSc in 2000, and met Professor Harvey Richer at the University. Jason and Harvey began working together on astrophysics, and continue doing so today both as colleagues and friends.
Today, Jason lives in Ellicott City MD.