Science Lecture: THE ADS - Astronomy's Memory Machine

Thursday, March 28, 2019  
7:00 p.m.  at the Southworth Planetarium
Michael J. Kurtz, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Darwinian evolution is not causing people to get any smarter, at least not measurably.  People have been getting smarter for millennia by using machines. Pens, printing presses, computers allow individual humans to record their ideas and discoveries for other humans to use.  Modern technology now allows people to “remember” the work and ideas of millions of individuals, collected over centuries. The storage facilities for these memories are normally called libraries.

Astronomy’s digital library, the Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS) has been providing this enhanced memory function for astronomy researchers for the last quarter of a century.  Free, and available for public use worldwide the ADS has been a leader in merging machine and human thought; it is now a central component of the astrophysics research process.

In this talk I will show how to use the system, with especial emphasis on its use by students, educators, amateur astronomers, and the general public.


Michael Kurtz is an astronomer and computer scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which he joined after receiving a Ph.D. in Physics from Dartmouth College in 1982. Kurtz is the author or co-author of over 300 technical articles and abstracts on subjects ranging from cosmology and extra-galactic astronomy to data reduction and archiving techniques to information systems and text retrieval algorithms.

Kurtz has been with the ADS project since its inception. He is the ADS project scientist.

  • 2001 George Van Biesbroeck Award “for the visionary design of the Astrophysics Data System,” American Astronomical Society

  • 2000 ISI-ASIST Citation Research Award, American Society for Information Science and Technology

  • Fellow Astrophysics Division, American Physical Society

  • Fellow Section T, Computer, Communication and Information Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science

  • 2018 Information Science Paper of the Year, Association for Information Science & Technology