Impey, Chris 1956-

views updated

Impey, Chris 1956-


Born January 25, 1956, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Education: University of London, B.S., 1977; University of Edinburgh, Ph.D., 1981.


Home—Tucson, AZ. Office—Department of Astronomy Main Office, 933 N. Cherry Ave., Ste. N204, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721-0065. E-mail—[email protected]


University of Edinburgh and Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, Scotland, research assistant, 1977-81; University of Arizona, Tucson, Steward Observatory, assistant professor, 1986-91, associate professor, 1991-96, professor, 1996-2000, disting-uished professor, 2000—, associate director, NASA Space Grant, 1991-95, Department of Astronomy, deputy department head, 1999—; University of Washington, Seattle, Department of Astronomy, visiting professor, 1995-96; had fourteen projects approved for observation through the Hubble Space Telescope; regular lecturer and speaker at universities and conferences.


American Astronomical Society, Astronomical Society of the Pacific Royal, Astronomical Society, International Astronomical Union, Russian Astronomical Society, Associate of the Royal College of Science, Phi Beta Kappa honorary member.


Science Research Council/NATO fellow, research associate, Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii, 1981-83; Weingart Prize fellowship, California Institute of Technology, 1983-86; Dudley Observatory Award, 1990; Slipher Award, National Academy of Sciences, 1998; National Science Foundation Distinguished Teaching Scholar, Carnegie Foundation, 2002; ASP Richard H. Emmons Award, 2008; winner of numerous teaching awards and grants; awarded several grants by the National Science Foundation and the NASA Educational Division.


(With William K. Hartmann) Astronomy: The Cosmic Journey, 5th edition, Wadsworth Pub. (Belmont, CA), 1994, 6th edition, Brooks/Cole (Pacific Grove, CA), 2002.

(Editor, with J.I. Davies and S. Phillipps) The Low Surface Brightness Universe: IAU Colloquium 171: Proceedings of an IAU Colloquium Held at Cardiff, Wales, 5-10 July, 1998, Astronomical Society of the Pacific (San Francisco, CA), 1999.

(With William K. Hartmann) The Universe Revealed, Brooks/Cole (Pacific Grove, CA), 2000.

The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.


Chris Impey was born January 25, 1956, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He graduated from the University of London in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in physics. From there he continued his education at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where he earned his doctorate in astronomy in 1981. While working toward his doctorate, he served as a research assistant at the University of Edinburgh's Royal Observatory. He later joined the faculty at the University of Arizona, where he has worked his way up from assistant to distinguished professor at the university's Steward Observatory, as well as serving as the deputy department head for its department of astronomy. The undergraduate program in astronomy at the University of Arizona is the largest and most popular of its kind. Impey's primary areas of research and academic interest there include cosmology and investigating active galaxies, quasars, and those galaxies so distant that they provide only the faintest of readings. He also has a number of side interests within the field, including the study of dark matter and dark energy, and the creation and growth of black holes. But unlike many researchers, he appreciates the process of teaching the next generation about the subject he loves. In an interview for American Scientist, he remarked: "Teaching is essential for me. The restless energy of students forces you to re-engage your own knowledge, even in the context of a course for non-science majors."

Over the course of his career, Impey has been honored with several grants and fellowships, including the Science Research Council/NATO fellowship at the University of Hawaii and the Weingart Prize fellowship at the California Institute of Technology. He was also named a National Science Foundation Distinguished Teaching Scholar, received the 2008 ASP Richard H. Emmons award for outstanding teaching of astronomy to those not taking it for their major, and has won several grants from the NASA Educational Division. Impey is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific Royal, the Astronomical Society, the International Astronomical Union, the Russian Astronomical Society, and the Royal College of Science. He has served on numerous committees and in 2007 was a member of the board responsible for determining the nominees for the year's Nobel Prize in physics. Impey is one of the foundering members of the board of directors of the Astronomy Educational Journal of the American Astronomical Society. In addition to his academic duties, he has written and/or edited a number of books on astronomy and the universe, including Astronomy: The Cosmic Journey, which he wrote with William K. Hartmann, The Universe Revealed, for which Hartmann also served as coauthor, and The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe.

Impey's The Living Cosmos offers readers a wide spectrum of information and speculation about the universe as we know it, combining astronomy, cosmology, biology, and evolution. It looks both backward and forward, beginning with an overview of the basics of cosmology and stretching into the potential fate of the universe many millions of years in the future. Impey starts by explaining early Greek scientific theories regarding the shape and meaning of the heavens, then moves on to a review of the big bang theory of the creation of the universe and the start of life. From there he narrows his focus to Earth and how life developed on the planet over many thousands and thousands of years. This serves as an example of one type of environment that we know has not only enabled life to commence, but to develop and progress in steady stages. Impey uses this as a segue into the question of whether life might exist elsewhere in the universe, and what possible conditions might lend themselves to another planet developing life, whether it be similar to or vastly different from our own experiences. He includes information about the different circumstances and conditions under which life forms from Earth have been known to exist, including radical differences in temperature or oxygen deprivation that can be equated to the atmospheres of Mars or Venus. Because of this, despite a lack of hard evidence to indicate that there are indeed other life forms in the universe, scientists continue their investigations into the possibility, as the information suggests that virtually any atmosphere might be able to sustain some sort of life. Scientists have also altered their definition of life to include a broader range of micro-organisms that might otherwise have been discounted. Looking toward the future, Impey discusses the potential ramifications for humankind at some distant time when the sun in our solar system might fail, forcing humans to evacuate the planet in search of some other system that could support humankind. In consideration of this eventuality, he discusses ways in which various organisms hold up under the stresses of space travel and how this knowledge might one day translate into a system that would allow human beings to make similar journeys over light years without physical or mental consequences that would prevent them from surviving the trip. Addressing modern-day space exploration and the programs that have been set in place to allow people to learn more about the potential for life beyond Earth, Impey looks at NASA and its policies, focusing in particular on its initiative to seek out planets that support water in some fashion, as the existence of water makes the potential for some type of life form more likely. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly opined that those who have "little formal science background will enjoy this wild ride through the ages and deep space as much as will dedicated SETI buffs." In a contribution for Kirkus Reviews, one writer described Impey's work as "a skillful account of the universe, the nature of life and where in the universe life might occur." Sara Lippincott, writing for the Los Angeles Times Online Web site, found the book to be "an overview of everything you need to know about the fundamentals, including how we got here and where we're probably going."



Booklist, December 1, 2007, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe, p. 16.

Discover, December 1, 2007, review of The Living Cosmos, p. 69.

Entertainment Weekly, December 7, 2007, Wook Kim, review of The Living Cosmos, p. 81.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2007, review of The Living Cosmos.

Library Journal, December 1, 2007, H. James Birx, review of The Living Cosmos, p. 147.

Nature, February 21, 2008, "Quest for Extraterrestrial Life," p. 890.

New Scientist, winter, 2007, "Out of This World," p. 76.

Publishers Weekly, October 22, 2007, review of The Living Cosmos, p. 50.


American Scientist, (July 13, 2008), Greg Ross, "Scientists' Nightstand: Chris Impey."

Arizona University Web site, (July 13, 2008), faculty profile.

Chris Impey Home Page, (July 13, 2008).

Los Angeles Times Online, (December 28, 2007), Sara Lippincott, review of The Living Cosmos.

NASA Web site, (May 12, 2008), Wendy Dolci, "Chris Impey Receives ASP Richard H. Emmons Award."