Department of Astronomy Center for Radiophysics & Space Research

James Fuller

Professor Dong Lai
James Fuller

Research area:

Theoretical astrophysics

Research projects:

Kepler Guest Observer


My research examines the theory of tidal interactions in compact stellar and exoplanetary systems. My primary focus is studying tidal interactions in compact binary white dwarfs. White dwarfs in compact binaries (with orbital periods less than a few hours) experience orbital decay due to gravitational radiation, eventually leading to mass transfer or a merger. The goal of my research is to understand how

tidal interactions preceding mass transfer affect the properties of the white dwarfs (e.g., how they become synchronized, how tidal heating changes the internal and observable properties of the white dwarfs, etc.). I investigate these issues from a theoretical point of view, using gravitational and fluid dynamics to understand how tidal forces excite stellar oscillations within the white dwarfs, and how these oscillations damp out within the white dwarfs to produce tidal synchronization and heating. I utilize analytical arguments as much as possible in my research, backed up my numerical techniques where necessary. I have also performed a great deal of research on tidal interactions in normal stars. This research has been motivated in part by the recent observations of tidally excited oscillations in stars observed by the Kepler satellite. Specifically, I have investigated the tidal interactions in the highly eccentric binary star KOI-54, and am currently studying tidal oscillations in the triple star system HD181068.

Finally, I am a member of a Kepler guest observer team studying the highly eccentric "hearbeat" stars (including KOI-54) that have been discovered by the Kepler satellite. I am currently supported by a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship. 

In addition to research, I answer questions for the Cornell astronomy "Ask an Astronomer" webpage. Outside of astronomy life, I try to stay active. I have played on the Cornell Ultimate Frisbee men's club team the past three years. I also enjoy hiking and rock climbing. Despite all this activity, my standing long jump is only average compared to athletic males in my age group, with a personal best of 225 centimeters.


Fuller, J., Gibson, S. E., de Toma, G., Fan, Y., 2008, ApJ, 678, 515

Fuller, J., Gibson, S. E., 2009, ApJ, 700, 1205

Fuller, J., Lai, D., 2011, MNRAS, 412, 1331

Fuller, J., Lai, D., 2012, MNRAS, 420, 3126

Fuller, J., Lai, D., 2012, MNRAS, 421, 426

Fuller, J., Lai, D., 2012, ApJL, 756, 17