Reintroducing Michael West

Michael West is Deputy Director for Science at Lowell Observatory. He has been a professional astronomer for more than three decades and feels blessed to be able to explore the universe for a living. He received his PhD in astronomy from Yale University and held research, teaching and leadership positions at universities and observatories on four continents before joining Lowell in 2015.

Michael’s research is extragalactic in focus. Over the years he has studied giant cannibal galaxies, orphaned star clusters, the cosmic web, and other curios of the cosmos.  He began his career as a theoretical astrophysicist – his PhD thesis was a computational study of how the properties of galaxy clusters might depend on the type of dark matter that dominates the universe – but he gradually moved into observational astronomy.

Michael is passionate about sharing the wonders of the universe with people of all ages, and currently serves on the IAU’s Commission C2 on Communicating Astronomy with the Public. He loves writing and is particularly fascinated by the interplay between science and culture. His essays have been published by The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Scientific American, Astronomy magazine and more. He has also written two books, most recently A Sky Wonderful with Stars: 50 Years of Modern Astronomy on Maunakea, and he’s hard at work on his next book.


Introducing Aswin Sekhar

Dr Aswin Sekhar is a solar system dynamicist at Armagh Observatory & Planetarium, Northern Ireland. His work mainly focuses on the dynamical evolution of small solar system bodies like meteoroids, comets and asteroids.

He is the first professional meteor astronomer from India. In addition to research, he contributes popular science articles to various national and international media. He does multiple science public outreach projects in India for rural schools and university students.

Apart from sciency stuff, he enjoys swimming, badminton, cricket, chess, experimenting various Indian recipes, playing Tabla (Indian drums), treks on mountains, sipping beer near beaches and gambling card games for non-astronomical sums of money! Having said all this, he is not an expert in any of these things mentioned above!


Re-introducing Kat Volk

I’m Kat Volk (@kat_volk), a staff scientist at the University of Arizona’s Department of Planetary Sciences/Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. My research mostly involves a mix of theoretical and observational studies of trans-Neptunian objects (aka Kuiper belt objects) in the outer solar system, with a focus on how their orbits can help us understand the dynamical history of the giant planets in our solar system. I also study the dynamics of exoplanet systems like those discovered by the Kepler mission.

I got my PhD in planetary science from the University of Arizona in 2013. I then spent two years working at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, mostly as part of the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS) which discovered more than 800 objects in the outer solar system. I moved back to Tucson in 2015 to continue a variety of research projects. You can find research updates on my website:

Introducing Jielai Zhang

During her PhD at the University of Toronto, Jielai (@zhangjielai) helped build the Dragonfly Telephoto Array, the world’s best telescope for low surface brightness observations of the Universe. She led the development of the image processing software for Dragonfly. The team, led by Prof. Roberto
Abraham and Prof. Pieter van Dokkum, discovered a new class of galaxies called ultra-diffuse galaxies, a subset of which has been shown to be strangely devoid of dark matter.  Jielai also led studies of galaxy disks and dust in the Milky Way, co-supervised by Prof. Peter Martin.

For her first postdoc, Jielai is pivoting to medical imaging on a Schmidt Science Fellowship. She is in Prof. Alison Noble’s group working on applications of deep learning for fetal health monitoring. Her goal is to produce atlases of the developing fetal brain using 3D ultrasound data for fetuses affected by congenital heart disease or were born small for their gestational age. She will also use routine fetal ultrasound videos and related multi-modal data to explore the systematic improvement of clinical image recording.

Equipped with new image analysis and deep learning techniques, Jielai will move to Australia in late 2019 to uncover the mysteries of how the Universe changes second to second.

Re-introducing Gautham Narayan

I’m Gautham Narayan (@gsnarayan). I study supernovae and other things that go bump in the night. I work on identifying and classifying them very early with machine learning, understanding their progenitor systems, finding the electromagnetic counterparts of gravitational wave sources, calibrating their brightness and using them to constrain the nature of dark energy, and I’m studying the interplay between these stellar deaths and their environments. I’m currently the Lasker Data Science Fellow at the Space Telescope Science Institute (@stsci), and I’m particularly excited to talk exploding stars with you this week because we’ve got TWO awesome meetings about this field, so you’ll hear about the forefront of our field and meet some of the awesome people I work with! I grew up in India, the UK and Ireland, moved to Illinois Wesleyan for my undergraduate work, Harvard for my Ph.D., and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory for my postdoctoral work. I’m delighted to be moving to the University of Illinois this Fall. Aside from science, there may also be tweeting about the academic job search, baby owls, building the LEGO Millennium Falcon, re-watching Marvel movies, hiking outside Baltimore, and ranting about how my dog Kepler has stolen my dinner/place on the bed/heart.

Introducing Joshua Lothringer

I’m Joshua Lothringer (@JDLothringer). I’m a PhD candidate in my final semester at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. I did my undergrad in astronomy from the University of Colorado at Boulder where I worked at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics operating several NASA spacecraft, including the Kepler space telescope and the Student Dust Counter on New Horizons. I also worked on the science team of the MAVEN mission to Mars. In the fall, I’ll be moving to Baltimore to postdoc at Johns Hopkins University and work with folks at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).

My research has focused on studying exoplanet atmospheres. I’ve been lucky enough to observe and model exoplanet atmospheres. I’ve used observations from HST/STIS to study Neptune and sub-Neptune sized exoplanets, as well as done some ground-based observing work at MMT. I’ve also used the PHOENIX stellar atmosphere model to simulate the atmospheres of the hottest Jovian exoplanets.

Outside of my research time, I like to read (mostly sci-fi), play video games, watch sitcoms, play guitar, and walk by partner’s doge.

Introducing Sarah McIntyre

I’m Sarah McIntyre (@ExoBioExplorer) a PhD student at the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University.

My current research aims to examine the effect that a diverse range of astronomical and planetary parameters have on an exoplanet’s ability to sustain liquid water. I spend most of my time working on exoplanet models and simulations and doing lab experiments. Long term research plans include helping determine optimal targets for near-future ground- and space-based observations of planetary atmospheres and the potential detection of life in space.

When not exploring exoplanets I read (lately mainly about AI/machine learning), compose, play piano (or violin) and travel.