After a postdoctoral appointment at the University of Washington, she served for more than 20 years on the scientific staff of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Ariz., before coming to Bloomington.
Pilachowski’s research involves studies of the compositions of stars to understand the origin of the chemical elements and how the composition of our galaxy the Milky Way has changed over time. When the Milky Way formed more than 12 billion years ago, it contained just trace amounts of elements other than hydrogen and helium. While our galaxy is still mostly hydrogen and helium, the amounts of other elements have increased through nucleosynthesis in stars. Stars produce elements through nuclear fusion in their interiors, and those new elements are ejected back into interstellar space, where they mix into new generations of stars. Pilachowski and her students use large telescopes to obtain spectra of stars, which they analyze with computer models to derive the abundances of the elements. During her career, she has published more than 130 refereed scientific papers.
In addition to advanced undergraduate and graduate courses for astronomy students, Pilachowski enjoys teaching the university's popular astronomy courses for majors outside of the sciences, including the new “Art of Astronomy” course developed as a Themester offering. She served as associate dean for graduate education in the College of Arts and Sciences from 2009 to 2012.
Following in the tradition of long-time IU astronomer Frank Edmondson, Pilachowski also serves in multiple roles in her discipline. She served as president of the American Astronomical Society from 2002 to 2004, and has served on many oversight, planning, and review committees during her career. She was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1993.