Meet the ExoExplorers
Zahra Ahmed (she/her)
Research Area: developing data simulation tools and analysis algorithms for exoplanet detection and characterization using direct imaging
Affiliation: Stanford University
Bio: I am a PhD student and NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University where my work is focused on developing data simulation tools and analysis algorithms for exoplanet detection and characterization using direct imaging. Prior to my graduate studies, I received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin in 2018 and subsequently worked as a Propulsion Engineer at Boeing. My engineering background has given me a strong foundation in applied mathematics and software development which I am eager to apply to exciting problems in exoplanet direct imaging. I am deeply passionate about creating inclusive environments to support diverse communities in STEM, which I do through my work in Stanford’s Graduate Society of Women Engineers, Women in Aeronautics and Astronautics and several student advisory committees. Outside of research, I am an avid reader and dessert consumer as well as an amateur ceramicist!
Lili Alderson (she/her)
Research Area: exoplanet atmospheres using transmission spectroscopy with space-based telescopes, from rocky super-Earths to inflated gas giants
Affiliation: University of Bristol
Bio: I am a final year PhD student at the University of Bristol. I obtained my MPhys in Astrophysics from the University of Southampton, spending a year in research at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian where I first began exploring exoplanets. Currently, my research focuses on studying exoplanet atmospheres using transmission spectroscopy with space-based telescopes, from rocky super-Earths to inflated gas giants. I’m particularly interested in understanding how telescope systematics and detector effects are impacting our observations. Beyond research, I am heavily involved in the Astrobites collaboration and am passionate about communicating research to make it as entertaining and accessible as possible.
Galen Bergsten (they/them)
Research area: exoplanet demographics
Affiliation: Lunar and Planetary Laboratory - University of Arizona
Bio: I am a PhD candidate at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab. My research in exoplanet demographics uses large-scale survey datasets to study thousands of planets. With such a wealth and diversity of data, I work to reveal and characterize population-level trends to better understand the formation and evolution of planetary systems. I have a particular focus on Earth-sized habitable planets, and have used data from the Kepler mission to estimate the frequency of these planets around M dwarfs and Sun-like stars. I’m interested in the combination of insights from multiple surveys to expand our understanding of planetary systems, and in the application of demographic results to aid the ongoing search for life. I’m also involved in a range of efforts to improve the diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility of astronomy, both in academia and at large. Initiatives I lead are often focused on dismantling barriers to access for astronomers with disabilities, and implementing/improving mechanisms that support disabled and genderqueer scientists. I spend my free time visiting botanical gardens, reading manga, and playing indie games!
Michaela Leung (she/her)
Research Areas: analysis of novel biosignature candidates
Affiliation: University of California - Riverside
Bio: I am a PhD Candidate at UC Riverside where I work on analysis of novel biosignature candidates. I primarily use photochemical and spectral models but I am also interested in fundamental inputs from spectroscopy and biological field measurements. In addition to my work on biosignatures, I also apply the same models to a variety of abiotic planetary conditions to better understand and support future characterization of terrestrial exoplanet atmospheres. In my free time, I enjoy knitting, sewing, baking, and playing with my cats.
Garrett Levine (he/him)
Research Area: contextualizing the solar system among its peers
Bio: I am a Ph.D. candidate at Yale, working with Prof. Greg Laughlin on topics in planetary science and astrophysics. My research is centered around contextualizing the solar system among its peers. Towards this goal, I am studying exoplanet atmospheric escape with multi-wavelength data to understand the causes and effects of these outflows. I have also conducted research on interstellar objects and fast-moving near-Earth objects (NEOs). My focus has been on understanding observational selection effects and debiasing the shape distribution of NEOs, providing insights into collisional physics and tidal disruption processes. I completed my undergraduate studies at Caltech, majoring in physics and planetary science. Beyond my astronomy research, I am interested in developing best-practices for academic conference management and served as the organizing committee chair for the 2023 Emerging Researchers in Exoplanetary Science symposium at Yale. Outside of my research, I enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and biking.
Research area: physical and chemical processes present in the atmospheres of brown dwarfs and temperate giant planets
Affiliation: University of Texas at Austin
Bio: As a third-year Astronomy graduate student and an NSF Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, my interest revolves around studying the complexities of exoplanet atmospheres. My work focuses on studying the physical and chemical processes present in the atmospheres of brown dwarfs and temperate giant planets using 1-D atmospheric models. Forward models are crucial tools to characterize substellar atmospheres, especially in the era of JWST where we have the first opportunity to study RV-detected Jupiter- and Saturn-analogs, as well as cold brown dwarfs at remarkably high resolutions. Before joining the astronomy department at UT Austin, I received my B.A. in Astronomy and B.Sc. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. Beyond academics, I'm passionate about science outreach—organizing Astronomy on Tap and mentoring undergrads. I'm a hiking enthusiast on a quest to visit every national park in North America. I also love watching and playing almost every sport but as a proud Canadian, hockey holds a special place in my heart.
Fuda Nguyen (he/they)
Research Area: exoplanet and brown dwarf atmospheres
Affiliation: Lunar and Planetary Laboratory - University of Arizona
Bio: I am a second-year graduate student at LPL, University of Arizona, working with Prof. Daniel Apai on exoplanet and brown dwarf atmospheres. I'm originally from Việt Nam and I did my bachelor at Vietnam National University. Before graduate school, I was a post-bacc at the SOFIA Science Center, NASA Ames, and I also worked briefly as a data scientist in Việt Nam. My current research is on spectrophotometric monitoring of brown dwarfs with TESS to understand their atmospheric circulation. Certain brown dwarfs are highly variable and periodically "blink" in brightness, both in the short-period and long-period and their variability can help unravel latitude-dependent winds & vortices, essentially revealing 3D information from 1D data. In the future I am expanding my work to space-based telescopes such as JWST and PANDORA. In my free time I can be usually be found riding bikes, reading speculative fiction, and writing poetry.
Alex Polanski (he/him)
Research Area: the use of high-resolution spectroscopy and the multiple avenues to study exoplanets that this instrumentation provides
Affiliation: University of Kansas
Bio: Hello! I am a 5th-year exoplaneteer at the University of Kansas. My work spans a variety of topics but has been defined by the use of high-resolution spectroscopy and the multiple avenues to study exoplanets that this instrumentation provides. I primarily work with radial velocity data to measure one of the most fundamental planet properties: mass. I am also interested in radial velocity survey design and am involved in several new RV surveys that will help answer key questions about exoplanet system architecture. Alongside my research, I am an avid science communicator and wholeheartedly believe that the universe should be accessible to anyone. Outside the office, I’m occupied with making the perfect cup of coffee, spending time with my cat Atlas, and rock climbing - yes, even in Kansas!
Maria Vincent (she/her)
Research area: adaptive optics and high-contrast imaging science and instrumentation with ground-based telescopes
Affiliation: University of Hawaii at Manoa
Bio: I am a third year PhD candidate at the Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii at Manoa. My research concentrates on adaptive optics and high-contrast imaging science and instrumentation with ground-based telescopes. Driven by a fascination with planet formation and the intricate processes shaping our Solar System, a part of my thesis involves the direct imaging of circumstellar disks. I utilize the Subaru Coronagraphic Extreme Adaptive Optics suite to observe and study morphological features of protoplanetary disks in near-infrared wavelengths to understand disk structure and processes governing planet formation. On the instrumentation side, I am working on implementing a speckle suppression algorithm for exoplanet imaging at Keck/NIRC2. I will also be designing and constructing an optical testbed for a new deformable mirror, as part of the upcoming High-order Advanced Keck Adaptive Optics upgrade. Beyond research, I am actively involved in public outreach and regularly give talks in schools worldwide on different astronomy topics. I am from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and graduated magna cum laude with the highest departmental honors in Geophysics and Astrophysics from the University of California, Los Angeles. Outside of astronomy, my interests include blogging, mysteries, historical and science fiction literature and cinemedia, photography, hiking, and travel.
Daniel Yahalomi (he/him)
Research Area: the intersection of exoplanet astronomy and data science, primarily in the data-limited regime
Affiliation: Columbia University
Bio: I'm a 4th year PhD student and LSSTC Data Science Fellow at Columbia University. I work at the intersection of exoplanet astronomy and data science, primarily in the data-limited regime. A common theme in my work has been fusing dynamical constraints from varied observational techniques in order to study extrasolar planets, particularly in multi-planet systems, with a focus on planetary dynamics and architectures. I received my bachelor’s from MIT in Physics with a Concentration in Astronomy and Minors in Computer Science and Comparative Media Studies. I then spent two years working on the TESS Science Team at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian. I am passionate about mentoring young scientists. From 2018-2023, I volunteered in various roles as a part of the Harvard Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP), including twice serving as a project mentor and as Co-Director from 2021-2023. I am currently working on creating a similar high school research program at Columbia, with an emphasis on providing research opportunities and mentorship to students from typically underserved communities. Outside of astronomy, I enjoy hiking and backpacking, exploring new places, sports, and watching movies. For more information, please visit my website (danielyahalomi.com).