My research involves the use of interstellar absorption lines to probe the kinematics, physical conditions, and chemistry of the interstellar medium.
Some years ago I conducted a survey of interstellar K I absorption toward 188 stars (Chaffee & White 1982). This remains the most extensive body of observations of neutral potassium in the interstellar medium. It is also unique in having measured both components of the infrared K I doublet. More recently, Mary Lou West (Montclair State University) and I have used the survey data to study "local cavity" in the distribution of interstellar matter near the sun. We find that the K I data, which has a higher detection threshold than other probes, particularly Na I, delineate a cavity with dimensions approximately 200x1000 pc in the galactic plane. The cavity, which is aligned with the Local Arm, probably coincides with the interior of the system of gas clouds associated with Gould's Belt.
I served, along with playwright and theater professor Paul Zimet, as an organizing fellow for the project. A group of 8 faculty fellows and 11 student fellows met in a weekly colloquium to discuss Galileo both as an historical figure and as a metaphor for science and culture in our own time. For me, the Galileo project provided an opportunity to combine a long-standing interest in the history of astronomy with an emerging interest in environmental policy.