Introducing Karen Masters

Dr. Karen Masters (@KarenLMasters) is a Reader in Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, University of Portsmouth. Her research interests are in the area of extragalactic astronomy typically using data from large surveys. She is the Spokesperson for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-IV; @sdssurveys), a job which involves maintaining the scientific collaboration, working on press releases and co-ordinating the SDSS Data Release paper among other things. Karen regularly observes with the Green Bank Telescope at 21cm to measure the neutral hydrogen content of galaxies in the SDSS-IV MaNGA (Mapping Nearby Galaxies at APO; @MaNGAsurvey) survey sample. She is also the Project Scientist for Galaxy Zoo (@galaxyzoo) and often uses information on galaxy shapes and types collected from this citizen science project in her research.

Dr. Masters is a passionate advocate for the use of citizen science in research, and the benefits this brings to both researchers and the members of the public who participate. She has published numerous papers making use of Galaxy Zoo classifications, and has also investigate the scientific learning which happens when people engage with citizen science projects.

Dr. Masters grew up in the Midlands of the UK, was state-school educated and went on to read Physics at Oxford (Wadham College) where she graduated top of the BA class in 2000. She moved to the US to study for a PhD in Astronomy at Cornell University, and spent 3 years working as a researcher at the Harvard College Observatory before moving back to the UK in 2008. In 2014 she had the honour of being named the British “Women of the Future” for Science, as well as being listed as of the BBC’s “100 Women”. She is married to a fellow academic and is the mother of two young children.

Introducing Franco Vazza

Franco Vazza  (@franco_vazza) is an astrophysicists who uses large cosmological simulations ( to understand how elusive processes in the Universe work.
After getting is PhD from the University of Bologna (Italy) in 2009, he spent several nice years of Post-Doc at the Jacobs University in Bremen and at the Observatory of Hamburg (Germany). He is currently a Post-Doc Fellow co-funded by the Italian Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) and the the Horizon2020 initiative of the European Union, through the Marie Slodowska Curie Initiative Astrofit2.

In particular, he is interested in non-thermal processes in galaxy clusters and in cosmic filaments, like the  acceleration of cosmic rays, the onset of plasma turbulent motions and the origin of extragalactic magnetic fields.
Complex simulations (often involving ad-hoc code development) are necessary to model how each of these processes may emerge during the formation of cosmic structure, and in order to compare as closely as possible with the real observations coming from radio, X-ray and gamma telescopes.

His long term project MAGCOW (The MAGnetised COsmic Web) has recently received and ERC Starting Grant from the European Union, and will be based from the 1st of September 2017 at the University of Bologna and at the University of Hamburg. The most ambitious goal of this project is to enable the Square Kilometer Array to use its future deep observations to have sure detections of the rarefied cosmic web   (, and to assess the most likely origin of magnetic fields.

His homepage (including pretty pictures and movies of his work) is
He is also a long time contributor to the Italian astro-amateur magazine “Le Stelle”.

Introducing Alexis Lavail

Alexis Lavail (@astro_alexis) is a third-year PhD student at Uppsala University, Sweden. His scientific research is focused on the study of magnetic fields of cool stars, particularly pre-main-sequence stars and M dwarfs, using high-resolution near-IR spectroscopy and/or optical spectropolarimetry. Alexis also participates in the CRIRES+ project, upgrading the Very Large Telescope’s CRIRES (near-infrared high-resolution) spectrograph. Together with colleagues in Uppsala, they designed the spectropolarimetry unit that they are currently manufacturing and assembling. Expect tweets about stellar magnetic fields and photos of shiny astronomical instrument parts.

Non-workwise, Alexis might be found taking long walks, brewing beer, baking bread, and feeling sad that there are still people who use Comic Sans.

Introducing Matthew R. Francis

Matthew R. Francis [] is a science journalist, public speaker, educator, and wearer of jaunty hats. He received a PhD from Rutgers University in 2006, where he studied galaxy cluster cosmology, dark energy, and the mathematical structure of gravitational theories. After finishing his doctorate, he taught college and directed a small planetarium in Tennessee.
Since 2011, Matthew has been a full-time science writer, covering astronomy, physics, planetary science, and social issues within science. His articles have been published in Physics World, Symmetry, Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine, Mosaic, Slate, NOVA, and many others. [Link to portfolio: ] He uses his background in research and teaching to help in his writing. As someone who made the transition from academic science to journalism, he mentors others who are interested in making a similar transition.
Beyond science, Matthew is finishing his first novel (well, since his teenage writings, which are best forgotten). He enjoys playing music, reading comics, talking about his cats, and taking Star Wars far too seriously. He is on Twitter @DrMRFrancis more than he should be.

Introducing Mehmet Alpaslan

Mehmet Alpaslan (@mehmsy) is a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. He is an extragalactic astronomer that studies the role of environment on the evolution of galaxies using data from from the Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA) survey. Specifically, Mehmet models the large-scale distribution of galaxies, often referred to as the Cosmic Web, and tries to understand how (or, indeed, if) galaxies in filaments differ to those in voids. He is also interested in astrostatistics and will talk about the marvels of the programming language R ad nauseam.


Mehmet received his PhD from the University of St Andrews, having also studied at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at the University of Western Australia for two years during his doctoral training. Originally Turkish, he has lived in seven countries prior to his arrival in the US. He will most likely post photos of his goofy looking Ibizan hounds.

Introducing Stephanie Bernard

Stephanie Bernard is a third-year PhD student in the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne, in Australia. Her work focuses on galaxies during the epoch of reionisation, when the Universe was less than one billion years old. These galaxies are thought to contribute to the reionisation of the Universe, when the hydrogen in the Universe went from a neutral to an ionised state. Using imaging data from the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3, and follow-up observations with the Spitzer Space Telescope, Stephanie is looking for the very brightest, rarest galaxies during this time.

Stephanie received her BSc in physics from the University of Melbourne, and also received a concurrent diploma in Russian language. She then completed a MSc in physics, also from Melbourne, with thesis work on supernovae externally supervised at Swinburne University of Technology, also in Melbourne. She enjoys public outreach, and has worked with schools around Melbourne as a part of the Telescopes in Schools program, run by the Melbourne astrophysics group. Outside astronomy, she greatly enjoys film photography and knitting.

Introducing Joanna Bridge

Joanna Bridge is a sixth-year PhD candidate at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania. She studies galaxy evolution using emission lines to study properties such as star formation rate, mass, metallicity, and dust geometry. Using Hubble Space Telescope (HST) spectroscopic data, Joanna is particularly interested in tracing the evolution of emission lines across cosmic time, from nearby galaxies to the very first galaxies that formed in the universe.

Joanna received her B.S. in Engineering Physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.  In addition to studying physics, she also acquired minors in both Astronomy and Classical Civilizations, interests that are connected through the history of astronomy and Greco-Roman mythology. As a graduate student, she was the recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship and a NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant Fellowship. She spent last year pursuing her research at Stockholm University in Stockholm, Sweden as an NSF Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) Fellow.  Outside of research, Joanna is a member of the Astrobites (link here to team, distilling current astronomical research papers and writing summaries to share astronomy with a wider audience.  In her free time, Joanna likes to read and do karaoke.