Laurent Drissen, a professor at the Université Laval, wears two cosmic hats. First, he peers into the lives of massive stars, those brilliant giants in the universe, to understand their journey and impact. Second, he crafts cutting-edge tools for exploring the skies above the Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic.
Laurent’s work reveals hidden secrets among the stars. Imagine using special telescopes to analyze starlight and discovering the presence of rare Wolf-Rayet stars in a distant galaxy called M33. Using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, he confirmed the presence of numerous Wolf-Rayet stars within the spiral galaxy’s giant HII regions, including NGC 604, NGC 595, and NGC 592. These stars are like cosmic superstars, and Laurent’s research, often in collaboration with other Canadian scientists has helped uncover their stories. He’s also used powerful instruments to look deep into the heart of galaxies millions of light-years away, searching for clues about the chemical makeup of space and mapping the movement of mysterious gases. Collaborating with post-doctoral researcher Leonardo Ubeda and the Hubble Space Telescope, he unveiled the intricate structure and historical narrative of star formation spanning 5 million years.
But it’s not just about what we see. Laurent’s work extends to what we can’t see directly—magnetic fields in massive stars, revealed through a technique called spectropolarimetry. In collaboration with Gregg Wade and PhD student Véronique Petit, Prof. Drissen used spectropolarimetry to detect magnetic fields in massive stars within the Orion Nebula, offering invaluable insights into the forces shaping these celestial giants. Because these magnetic fields are like invisible threads that influence how stars behave, studying them is important for understanding Wolf-Rayat star evolution.
Professor Drissen doesn’t only study the cosmos; he also invents instruments that collect light to generate observational data! SpIOMM, a Fourier transform imaging spectrometer primarily designed by his former PhD student Frédéric Grandmont, represents a collaboration between Université Laval, the Institut National d’Optique, ABB-Bomem, and the Canadian Space Agency. SpIOMM enables the capture of spectra across a broad spectrum, from 350 to 850 nanometers, with a typical spectral resolution ranging from 100 to 2,000, theoretically extending up to an impressive 25,000. It has been validated through successful observations in the challenging conditions of telescope observation and aims to provide detailed mappings of emission lines in extended celestial objects such as galactic nebulae, gas-rich galaxies, and galaxy clusters.