Out of this world: Ethan Vishniac brings prestigious journal to U of S

Anything dealing with the physics of the universe—from several thousands of kilometres to billions of light years away—can be found in The Astrophysical Journal.

By Colleen MacPherson

"It's a broad mandate," said Ethan Vishniac, editor of the journal and professor in the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics. "What we get varies a lot. I probably receive around 60 submissions (for the journal) every week."

Coming out three times per month, with each issue around 500 pages in length, the journal uses a lot of content. And the content, as one would expect given the vastness of the universe, covers a wide spectrum.

"Astrophysics treats astro-nomy as another branch of physics," explained Vishniac. "It is a broad science that pulls in people with a lot of different expertise and we publish everything from observations to theoretical research.

"I read all of the submissions and can recognize if something is off base. But I'm not an expert in all areas, so I send what is appropriate to a team of science editors who review them more closely. If it is too close to Earth, we suggest they find a more appropriate journal, and others are just stark raving mad," he said with a laugh.

"Amazingly enough, those that are stark raving mad often come from retired engineers with obsessive personalities. I love to tell my wife that," he said in reference to his spouse President Ilene Busch-Vishniac, a mechanical engineer.

As a peer-reviewed academic journal, the publishing process is similar to other journals, Vishniac said, but with one key difference: "We go beyond simply saying ‘publish or not publish.' We handle the reference process as an opportunity to improve the paper. We suggest changes or additional references."

That extra time and effort has really paid off for the journal, which has been around since 1895.

"It is a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way. People volunteer their time for the journal because it is seen as worthwhile; people put in time because it is valuable and it is valuable because people put their time in.

"In the past, the editor did everything, but among previous editors is (Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar) a Nobel Laureate. So we have gradually moved to a distributed system that spreads the workload."

Vishniac, who has been with the journal for 15 years, six as editor-in-chief, has moved the journal, and its managing editor, with him from Baltimore, MD, to Hamilton, Ont., and now to Saskatoon.

"It's a relatively light operation to move, but I am thankful the managing editor has followed me. I think she, like me, likes the intellectual breadth of working with this community. It is a lot of fun, even the parts that make me nuts."