Graham C. Kanarek, Ph.D.

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    Graham Kanarek Genius in Residence

    Dr. Graham C. Kanarek is an astrophysicist working at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. Gray is part of STSI’s Research & Instrument Analysis Branch; specifically, his team is NIRSpec, the Near-Infrared Spectrograph for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a large-aperture, infrared-optimized telescope to be operated in deep space. The Webb telescope is scheduled to launch in 2018 to replace the Hubble space telescope, which has been in operation since 1992.

    “The NIRSpec adds a spectrographic capability at near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths to the JWST instrument suite. Designed as a multi-object spectrograph (MOS), NIRSpec will be able to observe at least 100 astronomical objects simultaneously…. The purpose of NIRSpec is to provide low, medium, and high-resolution spectroscopic observations…in support of the four main science themes of JWST:

    1. The end of the dark ages: first light and re-ionization
    2. The assembly of galaxies
    3. The birth of stars and proto-planetary systems
    4. Planetary systems and the origins of life”[1]

    Dr. Kanarek is lead author of “A Near-Infrared Survey of the Inner Galactic Plane for Wolf-Rayet Stars,” which describes how he and his colleagues developed a new method of image subtraction in 300 square degrees of the Galaxy. They identified 49 Wolf-Rayet stars — 43 of which were previously unidentified – including the most distant known Galactic WR stars, more than doubling the number on the far side of the Milky Way. [2]

    Dr. Kanarek holds a Ph. D. in astrophysics from the Columbia University Department of Astronomy-American Museum of Natural History Collaborative Ph.D. Program, where his doctoral work was on Wolf-Rayet stars.

    Genius-in-Residence at Grayson

    Dr. Kanarek joined our K-3 class during the “Mission to Mars” project in 2016, spending time teaching our youngest students about the life cycles of stars by using a hands-on arts-and-crafts project to create a visual timeline of the various phases through which a star proceeds, from its earliest beginnings to its eventual death.  He guided our students through recreating the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram (shown below) by looking at individual stars and plotting them on a chart showing the relationship between the luminosity and the surface temperature of the stars.  Our students were amazed to see how their simple graph actually documented the life cycle of a star and were thrilled to see how differently giant stars and dwarf stars ended up.


    Image by ESO/CC BY 4.0

    The Hertzsprung–Russell diagram is a simple graphical representation of stars’ absolute magnitudes (luminosities) relative to their temperatures (stellar classifications). It represents a “major step towards and understanding of stellar evolution, or the way in which stars undergo sequences of dynamic and radical changes over time.” [3]


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    [1] This paragraph is entirely verbatim from a document titled “NIRSPec Operations Concept Document,” available here:

    [2] The article is available here:

    [3] This description is from Wikipedia: