September 30, 1996 12:00 PM

“In America there is this idea of a scientist which I do not fit, “says Italian-born astrophysicist Fiorella Terenzi, 31. (Hmm, it could be those shoes.) After coming to the U.S. nine years ago as a researcher in radio astronomy, Terenzi quickly decided that the sky wasn’t her limit. Using interstellar radio waves she created the 1991 New Wave CD Music from the Galaxies. The album sold a scant 7,500 copies (a hit for any astrophysicist, of course), but it helped launch Terenzi’s career as a performer who today is one of astronomy’s most popular, media-savvy proselytizers.

In Her Words: “I want to bring back that fantastic feeling of looking up at the sky, because every time you do that, something beautiful happens.”

Second Opinion: “She said she was an astrophysicist, and I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’ ” recalls veteran jazz keyboard player Herbie Hancock of their first meeting in 1993. “But the more she talked, the more believable she sounded.”

Vitals: Born in Milan; briefly studied opera; earned a doctorate in 1988 from the University of Milan. Unmarried, and lives in both Los Angeles and New York City.

Odyssey: In 1987, Terenzi collected radio-wave data from UGC 6697, a galaxy 180 million light-years away, then devised a computer program to translate the data into sound. Her debut CD is a montage of these cosmic noises mixed with synthesized violins and percussion. A tireless astronomy booster, she appears regularly in concert—using her galactic sounds as background—maintains a popular educational Web site and this year released her first CD-ROM, Invisible Universe, a widely praised guide to the galaxies.

Next Up: A second CD with sounds from Saturn, a 1997 book, an astronomy talk show on the Internet this fall.

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