Introducing Tom Robitaille

Tom Robitaille recently started work as a freelance scientific software developer and is currently based in the UK. Prior to this, he worked as a researcher in the field of radiative transfer and Galactic star formation.

Tom completed his PhD at the University of St Andrews in 2008, worked as a Spitzer postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics until 2011, and finally led a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg until the end of 2015. During his time as a researcher, he became involved in a number of open-source scientific software projects, and developed or co-developed Python packages such as APLpy, IDLSave, astrodendro, and many more. He then became one of the coordinators and lead developers for Astropy, a community-driven effort to develop a core Python package for Astronomy and promote interoperability between Python packages.

As a freelance developer, Tom now also leads the development of Glue, a package for multi-dimensional data exploration, and is working as the scientific editor for software papers for the AAS journals. You can find him on Twitter as @astrofrog, and he also occasionally blogs about Python, Astronomy, and Open Science.

Introducing Daniel Cotton

Dr Daniel Cotton is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia. Hi primary research is in the areas of planetary atmospheres and stellar polarimetry. He is part of the team that built and operates the HIPPI polarimeter, the most sensitive blue-optical stellar polarimeter in the world. HIPPI is being used for many areas of research, the most high profile of which is searching for signals of light scattered from exoplanet atmospheres.

Daniel had an unusual route into astronomy, gaining a PhD in the area of surface physics and nanotechnology at the University of Newcastle (Australia) before deciding to switch fields.  He has worked in a wide range of areas including surface and polymer chemistry, photonics, nanolithography, space and terrestrial weather, planetary atmospheres, space science and instrumentation, and now stellar polarimetry. He also has an interest in gender issues and is a member of UNSW’s Athena Swan Self Assessment Team.

Away from academia Daniel is a published writer of short science fiction and poetry. He is also a keen sportsman, and was an Australian national champion in the sport of radio control car racing, and also an administrator at club and national level.

Introducing Emily Lakdawalla

Emily Lakdawalla is a passionate advocate for the exploration of all of the worlds of our solar system. Through blogs, photos, videos, podcasts, print articles, Twitter, and any other medium she can put her hand to, Emily shares the adventure of space exploration with the world. Since 2001, she has worked for The Planetary Society, the world’s largest nongovernmental space interest organization. Since 2005 she has written and edited The Planetary Society Blog, where she reports on space news, explains planetary science, and shares beautiful space photos. She appears weekly on the Society’s Planetary Radio podcast, answering listener questions or rounding up the latest space news from the blog. She is also a contributing editor to Sky & Telescope magazine.

Emily holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in geology from Amherst College and a Master of Science degree in planetary geology from Brown University. She taught science to 9- to 11-year-olds for two years before realizing that being a school teacher was much harder than being a professional scientist. Emily has been an Administrator of the forum since 2005, supporting a worldwide community of amateur space image processors. She is now writing her first book, tentatively titled “Curiosity Rover: Design, Planning, and Field Geology on Mars”, due out from Springer-Praxis in 2017. The book will explain the development, design, mission, and science of Curiosity with the same level of technical detail that she delivers in the Planetary Society Blog.

Twitter: @elakdawalla

Reintroducing Meg Schwamb

Meg Schwamb is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Astronomy & Astrophysics at Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan. She is a planetary scientist and astronomer focusing on understanding how planets and their building blocks form and evolve. When not working, you can typically find Meg hiding out in a British pub in Taipei or wondering if the Chicago Fire is going to make it to the Major League Soccer playoffs this year.

Meg uses large surveys to probe the small body reservoirs in the Solar System. She is currently involved in the Colours of the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (, a 3-year (386-hour) guaranteed campaign on Gemini North to measure a single epoch of g,r,and J band for a sample of Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) with m_r’ <= 23.5 mag. The objects studied in ColOSSOS are discovered through the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS), which for the first time provides a large enough sample of KBOs (~500) where all the detection biases are well characterized.

Meg also mines large datasets via citizen science, enlisting hundreds of thousands of people worldwide in the research effort. She is currently involved in the Zooniverse’s ( Planet Four (, Planet Four: Terrains (, and Comet Hunters ( citizen science projects to respectively map seasonal fans on the south pole of Mars, characterize surface features on the Martian South, and search for cometary activity in the asteroid belt. Meg is also one of the founding members of astrotweeps and the Astronomy on Tap ( series of public astronomy talks in bars and pubs.

You can find Meg on twitter at @megschwamb