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Astronomer, artist Dr.Lee Anne Willson visiting as Basler Chairholder

Dr. Lee Anne Willson

JOHNSON CITY (Oct. 20) – Dr. Lee Anne Willson is on the East Tennessee State University campus this week through Nov. 6 as chairholder of the Wayne G. Basler Chair of Excellence in the Arts, Rhetoric and Science.

Willson is a professional astronomer with a wide range of research interests who specializes in the study of pulsating red giant stars and the ways through which stars lose mass over their thermonuclear lifetime.  The mechanisms, timing and effects of this mass loss on the future of the solar system are some of the problems she studies.

Willson has also been a lifelong multimedia artist, beginning with the first photographs she took at age 6.  Her folded-paper compositions are in collections in at least five countries and throughout the United States. 

As the Basler chairholder, Willson will give two free public talks while she is on campus.

“Out of Equilibrium: Exploring the Universe of Art and Science” is the topic of her first talk, to be held Thursday, Oct. 22, at 7 p.m. in 102 Rogers-Stout Hall.

“Both art and science help us see what we otherwise would miss,” Willson says.  “Both my science and my art background bring insight to what I see in tiny portions of frost-covered windows.  The moments I capture with my camera illustrate the rich variety of phenomena that occur out of equilibrium.  I will also explore some of the other ways that I find common ground in art and science.”

Willson’s second lecture, “The Ultimate Fate of the Earth,” will be held Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m. in 112 Brown Hall. 

“The sun is gradually growing brighter, and will eventually also grow much bigger before releasing nearly half its mass back into space,” she said.  “After shrinking to become a white dwarf, it will slowly cool and become very dim.  How will these changes affect the planets and moons in our solar system, and in particular, what will happen to Earth?”

An exhibition of Willson’s award-winning photography, “Out of Equilibrium: Winter Windows,” will be on display from Oct. 23-Nov. 6 in 266 Brown Hall.  The photos in this exhibit, including images of frost and frozen drops on windows, illustrate the non-equilibrium processes that are found throughout nature. An opening reception is planned for Friday, Oct. 23, from 5-7 p.m.  Scheduled viewing hours are Oct. 26 and 28 from 5-7 p.m., Nov. 2 from 1-3 p.m. and Nov. 5 from 3-5 p.m.; other times will be available by appointment.

Also, Willson will speak with students in the ETSU Department of Physics and Astronomy’s “Astronomy II” course on Oct. 29 and “Computational Physics” course on Nov. 4.

After earning her undergraduate degree in physics at Harvard University, Willson received Fulbright and American Scandinavian Foundation fellowships for study at the University of Stockholm in Sweden.  She then earned both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in astronomy at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Willson is University Professor emerita in astronomy and astrophysics at Iowa State University, where she taught for over two decades after receiving her doctorate and served for several years as coordinator of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Program.  During various sabbaticals at Iowa State, she had visiting appointments at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics in Toronto and Uppsala University in Sweden.  In addition, she had extended visits to the Institute for Astronomy in Cambridge in the United Kingdom and to the University of Minnesota.

In addition to her teaching and research, Willson has provided extensive service to the scientific community through membership in numerous professional organizations, including the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Astronomical Society and American Association of Variable Star Observers.

Willson is also co-founder of the Creative Artists’ Studios of Ames, Iowa, a non-profit organization that provides space for artists to work, learn and share their expertise with the public.  She has studio space there and continues in a leadership role.

Created in 1994, the Wayne G. Basler Chair of Excellence for the Integration of the Arts, Rhetoric and Science is named in honor of a longtime member of the ETSU Foundation who is a strong advocate of programs at the university and has a deep commitment to the liberal arts. 

The Chair of Excellence brings a variety of scholars to the community to broaden opportunities for students and the general public in the arts, humanities and science.

For more information, call the Department of Physics and Astronomy at 423-439-4231.   For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.

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