Luke Keller

Professor of Physics and Astronomy. Areas of interest: Astronomy and Astrophysics, Art-Science Interface and Collaborations

Luke Keller head shot wearing sunglasses

Luke Keller at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory near La Serena, Chile.

(607) 274-3966
267 Center for Natural Sciences
Ithaca, NY 14850

Astrophysics Lab

Discover more about Luke's astrophysics research! 

teach all areas of physics to all levels and ages of students. I especially enjoy teaching introductory courses in physics, physics of sound, and astronomy. No matter what subject or level, my primary goal is to help students develop their analytical thinking skills, their observational skills, their skill in communicating technical information, their imagination, and their physical intuition.

My research interests are in astrophysics, optics, and astronomical instrument development. I study the processes of star formation and the formation of planetary systems. My optics and instrumentation work is in design and construction of imaging and spectroscopic tools with astronomical applications.


My methods and philosophy of teaching physics focus on developing students' physical intuition, analytical and critical thinking skills, observational skills, problem-solving skills, and imagination in a collaborative environment. I emphasize the value of observing nature and methods of asking and answering questions about our physical surroundings, especially with students in my introductory courses. When teaching about technological applications, I promote a conceptual approach; students learn to understand specifications of a particular problem or application and then apply the appropriate physics fundamentals and a basic knowledge of available technology to a workable solution. I understand that most of my students will not become professional scientists. I try to demonstrate to them that developing the skills emphasized in science, and physics in particular, is a useful part of any quality education and will serve them well in any career they choose.

Here are the courses I teach at Ithaca College. Links indicate courses that I am teaching in the current semester:

  • PHYS-160 Physics of Sound
  • PHYS-301 Math Methods for Physics
  • PHYS-102 Introduction to Physics I
  • PHYS-101 Introduction to Physics II
  • PHYS-104 Physics of Human Movement
  • PHYS-118 Principles of Physics II: Electricity & Magnetism
  • ICSM-105 The Nature of Science
  • PHYS-175 Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe
  • PHYS-217 Principles of Physics III: Heat and Optics
  • PHYS-218 Principles of Physics IV: Modern Physics
  • PHYS-421 Quantum Mechanics
  • PHYS-470 Selected Topics in Advanced Physics: Atomic Physics
  • PHYS-470 Selected Topics in Advanced Physics: Spectroscopy
  • PHYS-470 Selected Topics in Advanced Physics: Astrophysics
  • PHYS-470 Selected Topics in Advanced Physics: Optics
  • PHYS-498 Senior Thesis


Luke Keller maintains research programs in the astrophysics of star formation and planetary system formation and in imaging and spectroscopic instrumentation.

Luke's astrophysical interests are in the chemistry and evolution of proto-stellar and proto-planetary objects. His current interest is the study of young stars that may be forming solar systems in environments where the abundances of heavy elements (e.g. O, C, Si, etc.) are low. This allows a glimpse into the process of planet formation in earlier era of the universe. He is a member of a team that used the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope to gather infrared spectra of dust and gas orbiting stars other than the sun. He and his students process spectra from Spitzer data archives and analyze the results, looking for atomic and molecular signatures of material that may be forming planets. Luke also uses ground-based observatories to gather spectra and images of these objects. His current focus is on Herbig AeBe stars, a class of stars that are several times more massive than the sun and show evidence of disks of gas and dust orbiting them, which appear to be the precursors to solar systems.

Luke was Project Scientist (199-2003) and a co-investigator (2004-2015) on a team that built the Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST), a mid-infrared camera that will operate on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), 2.7-meter telescope housed in a 747 aircraft. He lead the final optical design, helped test the FORCAST optical system, and lead development of the FORCAST data analysis software. He also lead a team funded by the Universities Space Research Association to add spectroscopic capabilities to FORCAST. FORCAST is now a widely utilized facility instrument on SOFIA.