Department of Astronomy Center for Radiophysics & Space Research

Jim Fuller

Recent Graduate Student in Theoretical Astrophysics

Jim Fuller was a graduate student in astronomy, working with Professor Dong Lai. He graduated in 2013 and went onto a postdoctoral fellowship at CalTech.

Jim is interested in one of the most poorly understood and unconstrained processes in astrophysics: the tidal friction in compact stellar and exoplanetary systems. Tidal processes are important because they have profound implications for the formation and evolution of stellar and planetary systems (e.g., hot Jupiters, moon systems, tight binary star systems). Jim's research is primarily theoretical, but it is frequently motivated by observations of compact astrophysical systems that can be used to test tidal theories (e.g. SDSS J065133.338+284423.37, KOI-54, HD 181068).

Tidal friction between stars in compact binaries stems from the excitation and damping of oscillations in stellar interiors. Most tidal friction studies hinge upon a mysterious tidal quality factor "Q" that encompasses many physical uncertainties and serves as a glaring reminder of our ignorance of tidal effects. Jim's research attempts to rise above the restraining shackles of "Q". He seeks to understand the fluid and gravitational dynamics responsible for the excitation and dissipation of waves in stellar interiors, thereby calculating the tidal "Q" from first principles. His research also investigates the interesting orbital evolutions that can stem from dynamic tidal effects, which would be missed using the "Q" factor. Jim has investigated tidal effects in ultra-compact white dwarf binaries, eccentric main sequence stellar binaries, and compact triple stellar systems. He is currently studying tidal dynamics in accreting white dwarf systems and exoplanet systems.

Jim worked as a teaching assistant for two years at Cornell teaching general astronomy courses, and after continued to share his astronomy knowledge by answering questions for Cornell's Ask an Astronomer website.

He was the recipient of a NASA Earth and Space Sciences Fellowship which currently funds his research. In 2011, he received a graduate fellowship from the Kavli Institute in Santa Barbara, and in 2012, received the Cranson W. and Edna B. Shelley award for outstanding graduate research in the Cornell Astronomy Department.