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.”

Introducing Benne Holwerda

Benne Holwerda is a postdoc at Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands working with Rychard Bouwens. He will be starting as an associate professor at the University of Louisville on January 1, 2017. Leiden Observatory has a rich hiistory in astronomy and today is a vibrant research facility in extra-galactic astronomy, astrochemistry and instrumentation.

Benne Holwerda works on galaxies, and their gas, dust and stars, in galaxies both near and far. He studies dust in galaxies using accidental overlapping (occulting) galaxies and gas using the MeerKAT Radio Telescope, under construction in South Africa (to be completed mid-2017). He works on the most distant galaxies with Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. He has worked at the Space Telescope Science Institute, the University of Cape Town, and the European Space Telescope.

You can find Benne  most other weeks at @BenneHolwerda

Introducing Jennifer Sobeck

Jennifer Sobeck is a Senior Scientist in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Virginia. She is a participant in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey IV (SDSS-IV) and serves as the Deputy Project Manager for one of its cornerstone projects, the Apache Point Galactic Evolution Experiment 2 (APOGEE-2). With the employment of data from a high-resolution, near-infrared spectrograph situated at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, she works with a cadre of people to generate accurate kinematic and chemical information for hundreds of thousands of Milky Way stars. Additionally, Jennifer is a member of the team that is building a second near-infrared instrument to be located at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, effectively making APOGEE-2 a dual hemisphere survey.

Jennifer’s research is centered on the chemical composition of stellar populations and relatedly, chemical evolution in the various components of the Galaxy. She is also interested in stellar astrophysics and the use of fundamental physics data to improve the derivation of stellar parameters. As a member of a large-scale data project, Jennifer is keen to develop efficient data extraction and utilization techniques and enjoys searches for patterns and correlations in the data (well, usually).

Jennifer received an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Physics. She took a brief detour into biophysics and medicine for a couple of years. Realizing that she was a glutton for a different type of punishment, Jennifer changed course and obtained a MA (2003) and a Ph.D. (2007) in Physics at UT-Austin. Her dissertation research focused on the generation of high quality atomic input data and the continued development of a radiative transfer code in order to extract robust element abundances in stars (with supervisors Chris Sneden and Roger Bengtson). Jennifer completed postdoctoral positions at the European Southern Observatory, the University of Chicago and the Observatoire de le Cote d’Azur, before landing a long-term position. Currently, she is splitting time between UVa and UW-Seattle.

Introducing Daniel Majaess

Daniel Majaess’ primary research interest pertains to improving the reliability of the cosmic distance scale. Establishing a reliable distance scale is crucial for determining the expansion rate of the Universe, the age of the Universe, and facilitating efforts to delineate the structure of our Milky Way galaxy. Dan presently divides his time between research as a member of ESO’s VVV survey, and instructing astronomy and physics at Saint Mary’s University and Mount Saint Vincent University. He likewise enjoys contributing articles to Universe Today news site, which was started by fellow Canadian Fraser Cain. Regarding the structure of our Milky Way galaxy, Dan remarks that unfortunately our presence within the plane of the Galaxy hampers efforts to map its structure. Indeed, there is currently no consensus on the number or nature of the Galaxy’s spiral arms and its central structure. Dan Majaess is a Canadian astronomer based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Introducing Andreea Font

Andreea Font is a Senior Lecturer at the Astrophysics Research Institute (ARI), Liverpool John Moores University. Her research interests are on the formation and evolution of galaxies, in particular that of the Milky Way, Andromeda and of other galaxies in the Local Group.  She uses super-computer simulations to model the formation of stellar haloes and tidal streams of Milky Way-like systems and to make predictions for these Galactic surveys, such as Gaia and WEAVE. She is also interested in how stellar discs form and survive in the framework of hierarchical cosmology, what clues can be found in the chemical abundance of present-day stars about the formation history of their host galaxies and how environment affects the properties of galaxies.
Prior to her tenured position in the UK, she held post-doctoral positions in US at Wesleyan University and in UK at Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University and at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge.