Peter G. Sutherland
Office: ABB 343
Peter Sutherland graduated from McGill in 1967. As a graduate student at the University of Illinois he initially intended to work in theoretical particle physics. However, he was soon caught up in the excitement of pulsars (discovered in 1968) and did his Ph.D. thesis on the properties of neutron stars and white dwarfs. From 1971-74 he was a postdoc at Columbia University where he worked with Mal Ruderman on neutron stars, the radiation mechanism of pulsars, and neutrino emission by dense stellar matter. Since joining McMaster in 1976, he has worked on astrophysical processes in strong magnetic fields, compact X-ray sources, the cooling of neutron stars, and most recently the modeling of supernovae.
Supernovae, the explosive disruptions of entire stars, are the most violent events in the Universe. While much is understood about them, there are many open questions about the stars and systems in which they arise, the details of the explosion, and the subsequent release of radiation as the ejecta expand and thin out. For many supernovae (especially those of Type I) an important energy input comes from gamma-rays released in the decay of radioactive isotopes (especially 56Ni) produced in the explosion. Dr. Sutherland has been concerned with both the rate at which this energy is deposited in the ejecta and with the use, as a diagnostic, of the emergence of gamma-rays and X-rays from the supernova as it expands. This was particularly relevant for the brightest (because nearest) supernovae in 400 years: for SN 1987A both gamma-rays and X-rays have been detected and he calculated their spectra and fluxes. Another supernova project that he is involved with is the development of a radiation hydrodynamics code and the incorporation of the major sources of opacity (some of which need to be calculated in a dynamically self-consistent way).
He is collaborating with Doug Welch and students on studies of supernovae light echoes.