USF Hosts Harvard Researcher's Lecture on Search for Earth-Like Planets

TAMPA, Fla. (April 13, 2009) Harvard University physicist Ronald Walsworth, whose work on a new laser system has led the search for new Earth-like planets beyond our solar system, will speak on his internationally renowned research at 6 p.m., April 23 at C.W. Bill Young Hall.

Walsworth was a lead scientist in a team of researchers who in 2008 developed a laser-measuring device making it possible to detect Earth-like planets outside our solar system.  By watching for the planet’s effects on light produced by the stars they orbit, the laser technology is able to discern the faint gravitational influence of an Earth-like planet as it revolves around a star.

The new device, called an astro-comb, uses pulses of laser light linked to an atomic clock to provide a precise standard against which light from a star can be measured. The technology is set to be tested at observatories in Arizona and the Canary Islands.

Walsworth is also noted for his interdisciplinary work that touches on a wide range of physics applications.  In 2001, Walsworth was a member of a team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who slowed light to a dead stop, stored it and then released it – a landmark scientific achievement which researchers hope will lead to faster and more secure computers and communications.  And in 2007, Walsworth and his colleagues drew international attention for developing a new generation of open-scan MRI machines that were less expensive and produced better images of parts of the body, such as lungs, that are difficult to scan when a patient is lying down.

Walsworth’s lecture is free and open to the public. His visit is sponsored by the Distinguished Traveling Lecturer program of the Division of Laser Science of the American Physical Society.


The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded more than $360 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2007/2008. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 46,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.