Profiles of Astronomers: John Lurie

Who are you and where are you from?
I’m John Lurie, a second-year astronomy graduate student at the University of Washington. I grew up and went to college in Atlanta, GA.

How did you become interested in Astronomy?
I was actually a public policy major in college until I took an introductory astronomy class. As part of the class, we had to venture out to the university observatory in the boondocks. It was my first time looking though a real telescope, and the first thing I saw was a beautiful globular cluster. Ever since then I’ve been hooked on astronomy.

If you’re an astronomer (grad/post-doc/faculty), what do you study?
My research so far has focused on characterizing the lowest mass stars (so-called red dwarfs), such as measuring their distances, masses, and magnetic activity. Recently, I’ve transitioned into studying how stars are distributed in the Milky Way, and am looking for sub-structures and populations of stars that give us clues about how our galaxy formed and evolved.
What’s the coolest thing (not literal) in the Universe?
Brown dwarfs, which coincidentally are literally rather cool by astronomical standards. They’re not quite stars, but not quite planets, either. As we learn more about them, we also learn more about how stellar and planetary systems form, and about the processes that underlie their behavior.

What’s the coolest thing outside of your field?
Archeology. I’ll watch pretty much any documentary where someone is digging up something from an ancient civilization. It’s fascinating to see how similar the human experience has been throughout history, but also kind of distressing to see us repeating many of the mistakes that lead to the collapse of previous civilizations.
What is your favorite non-astronomy hobby?
I studied a fair amount of Spanish in high school and college. I try to keep it fresh by reading, listening to, and watching things in Spanish, and by chatting with other Spanish speakers.

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