Introducing Emily Levesque

Emily Levesque (@emsque) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Washington. She got her BS in Physics from MIT in 2002, her PhD in Astronomy from the University of Hawaii in 2006, and spent five years at the University of Colorado at Boulder as an Einstein and Hubble Fellow before moving to UW last year.

Her research focuses on exploring the inner workings of stars and using them as fundamental tools for understanding our universe. She is particularly interested in massive stars, the behemoths that explode as supernovae and form black holes. Unlike any other object in astronomy, we can detect ancient generations of massive stars exploding in distant galaxies while also closely observing their evolutionary and chemical twins in our own cosmic backyard. Studying stars like these offers us a glimpse of how the universe has changed from the Big Bang to the present day.

In 2014 she and her collaborators discovered the first observational evidence of Thorne-Zytkow objects, a stellar structure originally predicted in the late 1970s that outwardly resembles a cold massive star but has a neutron star for a core. This combination represents a completely new model for the fundamental physics of stars and a new way of producing elements that make up the famed “star stuff”.

Emily is also passionate about science communication and increasing the general public’s enthusiasm for science: she has given live planetarium shows, public talks, star parties, and radio and film interviews, and is looking forward to adding Astrotweeps to that list this week!

When not working Emily can be found playing violin with the UW Campus Philharmonia Orchestra, hunting down new places for downhill skiing or open-water swimming, and – most often these days – on a plane.

Introducing Jen Blank

Jen Blank (@jenblank) is an astrobiologist at the NASA Ames Research Center in the heart of Silicon Valley. She is a member of the Mars Curiosity rover science team and studies Mars analog environments on Earth, focusing on the potential of water-rock interactions to support microbial life and the geochemical signatures of such life that are captured in the rock record. Recent field work has led her to carbonates associated with cold springs in ultramafic terrain (Del Puerto Ophiolite, California), sinters in warm springs in the Andes (Pampa Lirima, Chile), and hot springs in the Indian Himalayas (Puga geothermal field, Ladakh).


Jen earned BS/BA degrees in Geology/English from Stanford, an MS in Oceanography from the University of Washington, and a PhD in geochemistry from Caltech. Her scientific interests are diverse. Trained formally as a geochemist and experimental petrologist, she’s made mini volcanoes in the laboratory to quantify the amounts and behavior of gases (carbon dioxide and water) dissolved in volcanic systems. She’s also studied fluid evolution and phase changes in real time using diamond cell pressure chambers and vibrational spectroscopy. Scaling up, she’s fired large canons to generate conditions akin to those of a comet hitting the earth – and found that amino acids can polymerize to peptides in these ballistic impacts.


Jen is affiliated with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, a virtual institute that uses collaborative technologies for astrobiology science research, mentoring of citizen science activities, and outreach. Jen loves thinking about where we came from and where we should look for life on Mars and other planets. She’s interested in lunar and martian colonization and has spent a 2-week rotation living in the Mars Desert Research Station habitat in south-central Utah.


When not working, Jen spends time with her thoroughbred, Billy, who has his own apartment on a horse ranch not too far away. Jen also enjoys coding and big data meetups – there are many of these nearby – and hanging out with lady pythonistas.

Introducing Justyn Campbell-White

Justyn Campbell-White (@justyncw) is an observational astronomer starting the second year of his Ph.D research at the University of Kent. Justyn’s research focuses on the morphology of HII (ionised hydrogen) regions around massive stars. The aim of this research is to probe the formation mechanisms of the stellar bubbles these regions help create, and investigate how they interact with the interstellar medium. His first year was spent analysing a selection of images identified from the citizen science Milky Way Project (on These infrared images from the Spitzer space telescope reveal in high resolution the shell-like structures, that are products of HII regions and stellar winds. Justyn is now looking at 1.4 GHz radio data that coincides with the infrared bubbles.

Justyn also helps operate the University of Kent’s Beacon Observatory. This involves carrying out observations and teaching Masters and undergraduate students how to use the telescope. Justyn is currently observing for the HOYS-CAPS project, which works together with amateur astronomers for long term photometric monitoring of young star clusters, to identify outbursting objects.

Introducing Mike Alexandersen

Mike Alexandersen (@mikea1985) is a postdoctoral fellow at the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA) in Taipei, Taiwan (R.O.C.). With a preference for observational astronomy, Mike’s research currently focuses on studying the size,
rotation and dynamics of minor bodies in the outer Solar System (Centaurs and Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs)). Mike is a member of the large Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS), which has discovered and tracked over 700 object to accurate orbits. Furthermore, Mike et al. are conducting follow-up observations to measure rotational light curves of OSSOS TNOs.

While currently working with Solar System astronomy, Mike’s background is broad, having observed eclipsing binary stars for their B.Sc. thesis (at the Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark) and worked on archival XMM-Newton and Swift X-ray observations of Gamma-Ray Bursts for their M.Sc. thesis (at the Niels Bohr Institute) before conducting a TNO survey for their Ph.D. dissertation (at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada). Mike’s closest approach to instrumentation was cutting a hole in a webcam to replace the lens with a telescope mount (aka. a plastic tube that fits into the hole meant for the eye-piece) during a 1st year undergrad research project.

When not working, Mike enjoys hiking and playing board/card games. Favourite games include Dos Rios, Gheos and Entdecker (and one particularly addictive PC game, Crusader Kings II).

Reintroducing Chris Lintott

Chris Lintott is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford, where he leads the team of people responsible for the collection of citizen science projects. Volunteers have used the Zooniverse to classify galaxies, discover planets (and perhaps but probably not an alien megastructure), catch supernovae and do a lot of non-astronomical things too. His own research is on galaxy evolution and formation, mostly using data from Galaxy Zoo to think about what changes star formation in galaxies. His background is a little closer to home, having completed a PhD at University College London mostly on the chemistry of star formation; he’s a big fan of triply-deuterated ammonia but likes sulphur compounds the best.

Chris is best known (in the UK at least) as the co-presenter of the BBC long-running Sky at Night program, a monthly look at the worlds of astronomy and astrophysics. This has taken him to all sorts of places, including the control room for ESA’s Rosetta mission which ends this week. He also once got the age of the Universe wrong on camera by a factor of a million. Away from research, Chris answers email. Away from email, he can be found cooking, watching theatre or opera or shouting loudly at the Chicago Fire and Torquay United. He also plays real tennis, which is far superior to the young upstart lawn tennis.

Most other days, you can find Chris on twitter at @chrislintott

Introducing Christy Caudill

Christy  (@christycraters) is a planetary geologist currently working on her PhD at Western University, Canada, focusing on impact cratering products and processes. With former experience in Mars spacecraft operations as a HiRISE Downlink Specialist, and a former geologist at the Arizona Geological Survey, Christy has a background in terrestrial as well as planetary geology. Her current field site is the Ries Impact Structure (Germany), where she studies the mineralogy and other aspects of the ejecta deposits. Impact craters provide a window into the subsurface of planetary bodies, with the largest structures exhuming tens of kilometers of any available rock, water, and ice. The ejecta deposits are the result of that exhumation, which redistributes this material across the surface and forms new materials under intense heat and pressure. The deposits at the Ries Impact Structure are of particular interest to her research as they represent analogies to similar impact-generated deposits on Mars. Earth-Mars comparative studies allow researchers like Christy an avenue to extrapolate past Mars climate and habitability, soil production, and subsurface volatile availability.

Introducing Maria Womack

Maria Womack (@StarzanPlanets) is Research Professor of physics at the University of South Florida in Tampa.  Her research involves multi-wavelength spectroscopy of comets and exoplanets. She is mainly interested in the chemical abundances and physical parameters that can be measured from volatiles with spectroscopic techniques. Lately, her cometary interests have focused on the activity of distant comets: those that are too far from the Sun for water ice to sublimate, but nonetheless have comae. Her work on exoplanetary science was mostly devoted to extracting signal from relatively faint ground-based spectra of hot Jupiters and super-Earths, which gave her a deep appreciation to the problems of Earth-atmosphere contamination.

Maria earned a B.S. in physics from Florida State University and a Ph.D. in physics from Arizona State University. She held a postdoctoral position in astronomy/planetary science at Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff) and her first faculty position was at Penn State Behrend (Erie). After three years, she left Erie to start a new faculty position at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, where she worked for 18 years. She carried out research with over 60 undergraduate students and managed student-run observatories at both universities. From 2011-2015 she worked as a ‘rotating’ astronomy program director to the National Science Foundation. She used her cometary and exoplanetary expertise at NSF to manage the stellar and planetary astronomy individual investigator grant programs; and to help create and establish the joint NASA-NSF EXPLORE program for exoplanetary science. She started her USF faculty position in 2015 and occasionally helps out NSF as a part-time “expert.”