In 1669, Hennig Brand, a German merchant and alchemist, tried a novel experiment he hoped would yield the mythical “philosopher’s stone,” a way to spin base metals into gold. His exact formula is lost to history, but we know he heated urine in a retort, or glass chamber, until the vessel glowed and the dripping liquid burst into flames. Urine, it turned out, wasn’t a source of gold. It was a source of phosphorus, a previously unknown element and the first one isolated in the laboratory.
If Barry Barish ’57, Ph.D. ’63, looks familiar, perhaps it’s because we profiled him in this very same space last issue.
In that article, we took pains to explain the nature of Barish’s work as director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, for which he shared the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. Little did we know we’d be featuring him again, this time as CAA Alumnus of the Year.
But, hey, fine with us. When the company’s good, who doesn’t like a second helping?
IN 2015, an observatory high in the Atacama Desert of Chile detected three planets orbiting an M star, an ultra-cool dwarf, in the constellation Aquarius about 40 light years, or 232 trillion miles, from Earth. Until then, the dim star was designated 2MASS J23062928-0502285. Not such a charming name. The discoverers of its satellites, a team of astronomers who operate the Chilean observatory remotely from Liege in Belgium, took the opportunity to warm up that appellation.