Introducing: Benne Holwerda

Benne is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. Before that, he spent time as a Research fellow at the European Space Agency, the University of Cape Town and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. Both his MsC and PhD are from the University of Groningen (NL).

His research is on the transparency of spiral galaxies, galaxy evolution and galaxy morphometrics. Galaxy transparency depends on the amount of dust in them and this is highlighted nicely when one galaxy accidentally overlaps another, more distant one. These occulting galaxy pairs can be used for high accuracy maps of dust in other galaxies.

His current research includes the sizes of the very first galaxies and star/galaxy separation in deep Hubble images. The searches for the first galaxies with Hubble also result in catalogs of Brown Dwarf stars in the halo of our Milky Way.

Benne lives near Leiden with his wife Robin, who works at UNAWE on astronomy outreach and education, Charlotte (5) and Marten (3). Dad days include trips to the many local musea. He is opinionated about equity in Astronomy, education, outreach, and work/life balance in academia. On twitter as @benneholwerda

Introducing Meredith Rawls

Meredith Rawls is an Astronomy PhD Candidate at New Mexico State University who lives in Portland, Oregon. She has an MS in Astronomy from San Diego State University and a BS in Physics from Harvey Mudd College. Her research uses binary stars and variable stars as tools to better understand how all stars live and evolve. Since stars are the main source of light in the Universe, we must use them to learn about everything else: our Sun’s fate, distances to faraway exoplanets, and our place in the Milky Way and beyond. If we don’t understand the lives of stars, then we can’t understand these things, either.

Meredith is passionate about quality science education and public outreach for all, enjoys playing viola, and loves getting people excited about astronomy. In her copious spare time she writes for astrobites, pretends to live at summer camp, frequents local restaurants, annoys her cats, and plans excruciatingly detailed travel adventures with friends and family. Find her online at, and on twitter @merrdiff.

Introducing Natalie Gosnell

Natalie Gosnell is a W. J. McDonald Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin.  Originally from Colorado, she earned her B.A. in Physics from Colorado College and her M.S. and Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her research focuses on understanding the formation and subsequent evolution of collisional and mass transfer stellar products.  Many stars, especially stars in clusters, don’t evolve on their own but are changed or influenced by a binary companion or through dynamical interactions.  These stellar products can include blue straggler stars and X-ray binaries, which were the main focus of Natalie’s dissertation.  Although her dissertation focused on ultraviolet and X-ray observations, Natalie is now branching into the near-IR using the new IGRINS spectrograph on the 2.7m telescope at McDonald Observatory.

Natalie is committed to increasing access in STEM fields for historically underrepresented groups and pushing our community to be truly inclusive.  When she is not doing science you can find her singing, knitting, or sitting at the merch table for Astronomy on Tap ATX.  She normally tweets as @nattie_g_ and you can find her website at

Introducing John O’Meara

John O’Meara is an Associate Professor at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, and currently serves as Chair of the Department of Physics.  John is a research astrophysicist, specializing in the study of the intergalactic medium, the circumgalactic medium of galaxies, and observational tests of Big Bang Nucleosynthesis.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Washington in 1997, John began his graduate studies at the University of California, San Diego.  There, using data from the Keck and Lick telescopes on the ground, and the Hubble Space Telescope in space, John began his research career studying quasar absorption lines, with a focus on observational constraints of the baryon density of the universe during Big Bang Nucleosynthesis.  At UCSD, John also began  work on larger surveys of the Lyman-alpha forest to help inform cosmological models and simulations.  He received his Ph.D. in 2004.  John did his postdoctoral research at MIT, where he began his study of the circumgalactic medium of galaxies utilizing the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Magellan telescopes at Las Campanas, Chile.  After teaching briefly for Penn State, John began teaching at Saint Michael’s College (a small Liberal Arts College in Vermont) in 2008, where he continues to actively pursue his research programs with collaborators around the world.  John received the Scholarship Award from Saint Michael’s in 2014, and in 2015 was elected a member of the Vermont Academy of Science and Engineering.

John also has a strong interest in science policy issues at the federal level.  Since 2014, he has served on the American Astronomical Society’s Committee for Astronomy and Public Policy, and he frequently meets with Congressional staff in Washington D.C. to discuss astronomy and space science policy and legislation.

John has served as a referee for the AJ, ApJ, A&A, and MNRAS journals, and has served on proposal review panels for NASA, HST, NSF, and NASA Space Grant.  He is an active member of many large international collaborations, currently serves on an International Science Development Team for the Thirty Meter Telescope project, and is a member of the UV-VIS Science interest group for the NASA Cosmic Origins Program Analysis Group. He is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.