Dr. Hans Zinnecker


Astrophysikalisches Institut Potsdam
An der Sternwarte 16
D-14482 Potsdam

Tel.: +49 331 7499 347
Fax: +49 331 7499 429
Room: SH 201

Scientific interests:

The physics of star formation and young stellar objects:

  • Protostellar disks and jets
  • Young binary and multiple systems
  • Young star clusters (30 Doradus!)
  • The stellar Initial Mass Function
  • The origin of massive stars

Dr. Hans Zinnecker is an astrophysicist who was born and raised in Bavaria, Germany. He was attracted to astronomy by his high-school teacher who had attended several public lectures by Prof. Kippenhahn on stellar evolution theory. He studied at the Technical University Munich where he first did a master's thesis in quantum field theory in 1977. Then he changed to astrophysics and, in 1981, he completed his PhD thesis on theoretical models of star formation and the stellar Initial Mass Function at the Max-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik in Garching.

Although a theorist at heart, he wanted to test his star-formation theories and wanted to learn how to do critical astronomical observations. He won a Royal Society Fellowship and went to the Royal Observatory Edinburgh as a postdoc (1983-1987) under Malcolm Longair. This was the time of the emergence of infrared arrays, and Edinburgh then was one of the leading infrared astronomy centers in the world. It was then he realized the potential to study embedded young star clusters and their pre-main-sequence luminosity function. Stimulated by the influence of Eric Becklin (who was on sabbatical in Edinburgh) he also got interested in the formation of massive stars in dense protoclusters. These early efforts eventually resulted in a much quoted review chapter on the initial stellar population written jointly by Zinnecker, McCaughrean, and Wilking (1993) in the book ``Protostars and Planets III''.

In the early 90s, he spent brief periods (three enjoyable months) as a lecturer at IfA in Honolulu/Hawaii and as a senior visitor at ESO in Chile. Among other things, these extended stays led to some memorable discussions and collaborations with George Herbig and Bo Reipurth, respectively. As an added bonus, he got to know the Mauna Kea and La Silla skies and telescopes fairly well.

Thereafter he joined the University of Würzburg (the place where Röntgen discovered X-rays) where he worked with Harold Yorke and his students, mainly on X-ray selected samples of young stars (ROSAT data) including their binary statistics. At the same time, he got serious about binary star formation, a subject which he originally started already in Edinburgh. In the process of infrared imaging of proto-binaries, he and his colleagues Mark McCaughrean and John Rayner discovered the most beautiful embedded protostellar molecular hydrogen jet in the sky (HH 212 in Orion) at the IRTF.

In 1995, he joined the staff of the Astrophysical Institute of Potsdam (AIP), where he became the head of the star-formation group. At the same time he became the institute's project scientist for the Large Binocular Telescope, in which Germany has a 25% share.

In 1997, he became President of IAU Commission 26, dealing with binary and multiple stars. At the end of his term, in April 2000, he organized and co-chaired IAU Symposium No. 200 on ``The Formation of Binary Stars'' in historic Potsdam.

When he is not doing astronomy (which is rare, says his wife), Hans is still busy running around at home and elsewhere, visiting his family (two daughters in Bavaria) and his friends (all over the world). In his younger years, Hans could often be found playing soccer. Naturally, his favourite team is Bayern Munich: he was an amateur player there when he was a student. Too old to play himself now, he still loves watching soccer matches, both on TV and live in the stadium, because their evolution and outcome is highly non-linear and the details are wonderfully unpredictable.