Image taken from the Kepler-16b travel poster

Meet the ExoGuides

2021 ExoGuides

  • Knicole Colón
    Knicole Colón

    Research specialty: Discovery and atmospheric characterization of transiting exoplanets in the optical and infrared
    Bio: Knicole Colón is a research astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. She is the James Webb Space Telescope Deputy Project Scientist for Exoplanet Science and also the Deputy Director of the TESS Science Support Center. Knicole has previously worked on the Hubble Space Telescope project, the Kepler and K2 missions, and the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT) transit survey. She earned her BS in Physics from The College of New Jersey and her PhD in Astronomy from the University of Florida.

    If someone made a movie based on your day-to-day life, what would the trailer look like?
    I imagine the trailer would open with some epic shots of TESS and JWST flying through space and pointing to different stars on the sky. There would then be a zoom-in to artist renditions of exoplanets like KELT-11b with its puffy atmosphere and HD 80606b whipping around its host star on its eccentric orbit. The narrator would say (quite dramatically), “Knicole spends her time working on the planet-hunting machine TESS, preparing for the launch of the incredible JWST, and studying the most extreme exoplanets.” Next would be shots of me fervently writing emails on my laptop while on phone calls and video calls, looking at endless budget spreadsheets, and fighting with Python and LaTeX, with Slack messages constantly popping up in the background. The closing shot would be an image of all the different people I work with at NASA and around the world, with me saying “It’s a lot of work, but at least I have a lot of awesome people to work with!”

    What’s a challenge that you’ve overcome in your career?

    One challenge that stands out to me was figuring out what I wanted to do after graduate school. On my journey to working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center I ended up moving around the country four times in five years – from Florida to Hawaii to Pennsylvania to California to Maryland. It was exhausting and frustrating at times, but I learned so much about both my personal and professional goals along the way. And I finally ended up at a place that is right for me!

    What makes you excited about being an ExoGuide?
    We have a lot to look forward to with the James Webb Space Telescope launching soon, the Roman Space Telescope in the works, and the prospect of additional future missions on the horizon, in addition to all the ground-based efforts. I am excited to help guide a cohort of Exoplanet Explorers however I can, so that they feel prepared and also excited to use their expertise to help make the next thirty years of exoplanet science as extraordinary as the last thirty years have been.

    Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
    I’ve been dedicated to collecting handbags from a certain brand for years, and I have what some would say is a very large collection now. I have had some unique experiences thanks to this hobby, like getting to visit the headquarters of the company and meeting the co-founder! I’ve also gotten to take some fun vacations with my mom to go shopping at the company’s enormous annual warehouse sale.

  • Ian Crossfield
    Ian Crossfield

    Research specialty: Observations of exoplanets and stars
    Bio: I entered the exoplanet field before ever entering academia, working as an optical & systems engineer on TMT and SIM at NASA/JPL. After several years I left for graduate school at UCLA, where I pursued infrared characterization of numerous exoplanets. I was a postdoc at the MPIA in Heidelberg, Germany, and was then a Sagan Fellow at the University of Arizona and at UC Santa Cruz. After that I was an Assistant Professor of Physics at MIT, and I have since joined the faculty at the University of Kansas.

    If someone made a movie based on your day-to-day life, what would the trailer look like?
    That is a great question! I really have no idea.

    What’s a challenge that you’ve overcome in your career?
    The "two-body problem" -- my spouse and I are both professional astronomers, and at times each of us has pulled the other to new locations, new jobs -- and new opportunities & adventures.

    What makes you excited about being an ExoGuide?
    I'm excited to meet the next up-and-coming cohort of exoplanet researchers and to follow their careers & discoveries.

    Tell us a fun fact about yourself
    I own two cats who have traveled with us from Los Angeles to Germany to New Mexico to Arizona, back to California, to Massachusetts, and thence to Kansas. But they keep a positive attitude on life!

  • Courtney Dressing
    Courtney Dressing

    Research specialty: Detecting and characterizing small, rocky exoplanets similar to Earth.
    Bio: Courtney is an observational astronomer focused on detecting and characterizing planetary systems. Her research group uses telescopes on the ground and in space to search for planets, probe their atmospheres, measure their masses, and constrain their bulk compositions. She is curious about planet formation and evolution, the frequency of planetary systems in the Galaxy, and the prospects for detecting life on planets outside of our Solar System. Courtney was a member of the Science & Technology Definition Team for NASA's Large UV/Optical/Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR) mission concept study and is serving on the panel on Exoplanets, Astrobiology, and the Solar System for the Astro2020 Decadal Survey. She has been awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship, a Hellman Family Faculty Fellowship, and a Packard Fellowship. Courtney obtained a bachelor's degree in Astrophysical Sciences from Princeton University, earned a Ph.D. and A.M. in Astronomy & Astrophysics from Harvard University, and completed a NASA Sagan Fellowship at Caltech. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Astronomy Department at UC Berkeley.

    If someone made a movie based on your day-to-day life, what would the trailer look like?
    The trailer would be a blur of Zoom login screens punctuated by interesting science discussions with students, lesson prep, writing sessions spent on papers and proposals, and work with data sets from ground- and space-based telescopes.

    What’s a challenge that you’ve overcome in your career?
    During graduate school, I led a Kepler proposal to obtain light curves of several thousand cool stars that hadn't previously been observed by the mission. The proposal was selected, but the Kepler spacecraft suffered a reaction wheel failure before the program could be executed. I remember reading The Boston Globe and seeing a comment from my thesis advisor David Charbonneau that one of his students needed to find a new thesis project: that student was me. In the end, everything turned out fine. I wrote a few more papers based on existing Kepler data and follow-up observations of interesting candidates. A clever team of scientists and engineers also figured out a new way to use the Kepler spacecraft despite its injury and the K2 mission was born. I love this story because the scientific return from the K2 mission was incredible and never would have happened if Kepler had continued observing the same patch of sky. The genesis of the K2 mission is a nice reminder that astronomers are creative and will find ways to turn challenges into opportunities.

    What makes you excited about being an ExoGuide?
    I'm eager to give back to the community and meet the next generation of exoplanet scientists. I can't wait to learn about your research interests and aspirations!

    Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
    My fiancée and I have two dogs that differ in mass by an order of magnitude.

  • Victoria (Vikki) Meadows
    Victoria (Vikki) Meadows

    Research specialty: Theory and observations of terrestrial exoplanet evolution, habitability and biosignatures.
    Bio: Victoria Meadows is a professor of astronomy at the University of Washington and director of the UW Astrobiology Program. She is the Principal Investigator for the NASA Virtual Planetary Laboratory research team which uses interdisciplinary exoplanet models to understand how to search for life beyond the Solar System. Previously, she worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with the HST/WFPC-2 Science Team and as a Venus scientist, and at the Spitzer Science Center/ California Institute of Technology as the Solar System Scientist. Victoria has served on several NASA and National Academies Committees developing strategies for the fields of exoplanet, astrobiology and solar system science. She earned her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Sydney.

    If someone made a movie based on your day-to-day life, what would the trailer look like?​

    Pre-pandemic: Shots of excited young people (and me) talking together in meeting rooms and showing each other plots...interspersed with me heading to the airport in a taxi....and then me unpacking my suitcase in a whole array of different, yet somehow similar, hotel rooms....wide shots of me talking to rooms filled with engineers and scientists, followed by dinners and drinks with colleague friends from all around the world, many of whom are at least as close as people I work with at my own institution.

    Post-pandemic: A lot of sitting in my home office talking to squares of people.

    What’s a challenge that you’ve overcome in your career?

    Building a massively interdisciplinary research group to search for life in the universe.... from scratch. The Virtual Planetary Laboratory was started nearly 20 years ago, and it's been enormously rewarding to define and then steer our focus on how to best recognize habitability and signs of life on distant exoplanets. But there were always challenges in picking the right questions, developing the right tools, and growing such a diverse team with such a breadth of expertise, that nonetheless works so well together!

    What makes you excited about being an ExoGuide?

    Learning about all our participants' research, and supporting a whole new generation of exoplaneteers by contributing whatever I can in the way of professional tips and tricks for success as a scientist. A lot of success in our field comes from the non-research parts of being a scientist, and I'm super excited that the ExoGuide program will help to address those aspects.

    Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

    I'm a lifelong swimmer and kayaker and I'm at my happiest when I am in or on the water. It's probably part of why I am so obsessed with habitable planets, because light on water is just the most beautiful thing to me! When I was younger I surf skied, white-water kayaked, and windsurfed, but now I really enjoy lake kayaking up here in the Pacific Northwest.