Weekes Dubbed 'Father' of his Astronomical Field
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
News Feature

Physicist Trevor Weekes chose a specialty that fit his personality.

He wasn't fond of working with large groups of scientists, so he steered away from a big particle-accelerator project and toward the smaller field of ground-based gamma-ray astronomy.

He chose correctly. For decades, Weekes was among a handful of people trying to establish the field. He's now regarded as its father. He is also the architect of the VERITAS telescope array on the western slopes of Mount Hopkins, south of Tucson. VERITAS, at the Smithsonian Institution's Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, stands for Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System.

It is a science that explores the most extreme phenomena in the cosmos — low-wavelength, highly energetic particles emanating from cataclysmic events.

"The types of things we look for are pathological — stars that have exploded, the centers of galaxies where massive black holes are accreting matter," Weekes said. "We are looking at energies and conditions that cannot be duplicated on Earth."

Weekes compares the science to peering down the beam of a massive particle accelerator, except that nobody could manufacture a physics experiment that could produce that much energy.

"The amount of energy is really quite phenomenal," he said.