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.

Introducing James Sprinks

James Sprinks is a Research Associate in Planetary Science / Human Factors at the University of Nottingham’s Geospatial Institute. His current research involves the FP7 iMars project (, the broad aims of which are to develop tools and 3D models of the Martian surface through the co-registration of NASA and ESA mission data dating from the Viking missions of the 1970’s to the present day, for a much more comprehensive interpretation of the geomorphological and climatic processes that have taken and do take place. James’ involvement concentrates on the development of a Citizen Science Platform that allows the online public to analyse change on the surface of Mars. Through doing this the aim is to better understand how task design, interface design, data presentation techniques and communication tools can be best utilised to ensure the best possible user experience whilst ensuring the data produced is still scientifically robust.

Coming from a physics and astronomy background originally, James completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Southampton. His final year dissertation involved the study of binary star systems, specifically cataclysmic dwarf novae and the prediction models associated with their behaviour. After several years working in the education sector, he returned to academia to complete a masters degree in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) through a co-ordinated scheme involving the University of Leeds, University of Southampton and Penn State University, USA. His research involved the use of GIS techniques to map the distribution and geometric properties of barchan sand dunes on the surface of Mars.

Cornish born and bred, James enjoys the outdoors, sea and sand. A keen Cornish Pirates RFC supporter, he attempts to play rugby at a sub-standard level, and badminton only slightly better! When not studying or attempting to play sport, James can be found either half way up a mountain somewhere or underneath some cats, Spotty and Optimus (he didn’t name them). You can find out about James’ research on his website: