Introducing Steph LaMassa

Dr. Steph LaMassa is a Support Scientist at STScI who works on one of the instrument teams for JWST. Steph’s research focuses on the growth and evolution of supermassive black holes and how they co-evolve with their host galaxies. Steph is also interested in learning how highly variable active galactic nuclei provide insight into black hole feeding habits.
Dr. LaMassa organizes and hosts Astronomy on Tap DC (@AstroOnTapDC), which is an outreach event where astronomers give short, fun talks in a bar! When not working or doing public outreach, Steph enjoys running (albeit very slowly), reading, and going to concerts.
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Introducing Peter Boorman

Peter Boorman (@boorm) is a PhD student at the University of Southampton in the UK, where he currently studies hidden monster supermassive black holes actively growing at the centres of galaxies.  These black holes grow by eating material surrounding them which can also act to conceal the active galactic nucleus (AGN) from our view.  This is why Peter relies on high-energy X-ray vision (courtesy of X-ray telescopes in space such as @NASANuSTAR!) to be able to stare through the obscuring layers of gas concealing the AGN, and reveal the hungry black hole lurking beneath.  However, much like Superman’s X-ray vision being blocked by lead, the densest and thickest layers of obscuring gas can even stop the highest energy X-rays from escaping some heavily obscured black holes.
Despite their apparent rarity, it is predicted that there are a very high number of these hiding supermassive black holes out there in the Universe that just haven’t been found yet.  These AGN are essential for understanding the evolution of all supermassive black holes, and hence all galaxies hosting them since the dawn of the Universe over 13 billion years ago.  With observations of galaxies in the local Universe, Peter will figure out how many obscured AGN there are on average, and how many have been missed in the past.  When Peter isn’t spying on the most obscured black hole banquets in the Universe, he enjoys baking cakes and cooking lots of different recipes, as well as running long distances to burn it off!

Introducing James Matthews

James Matthews is postdoctoral researcher at University of Oxford where he tries to understand where the highest energy cosmic rays come from. Cosmic rays are particles with energies up to 100 billion billion electron volts (that’s a lot of energy!) that strike our atmosphere and produce showers of secondary particles, which we can detect at places like the Pierre Auger observatory. Although they were discovered at the start of the 20th century, we still don’t really know where the highest energy cosmic rays come from.
James’ work is mostly theoretical; I do hydrodynamics simulations of outflows from active galactic nuclei (AGN) to see if they produce the observed cosmic rays. AGN are supermassive black holes that shine brightly due to the gas that is falling onto them, meaning they are interesting for all sorts of reasons — not just for cosmic ray astrophysicists! So, he also works on trying to generally understand the outflows and accretion discs that form part of their sometimes confusing behaviour. James’ PhD thesis, completed at the University of Southampton, focused on this topic. Outside of academia James plays guitar and keyboards in a band called Waking Aida and enjoy football, squash and good pubs!

Introducing James Guillochon

James Guillochon is currently a postdoc at the Institute for Theory and Computation in the Harvard astronomy department. He studies the  tidal disruptions of stars by supermassive black holes and supernovae, runs hydrodynamical simulations to figure out their physics, and compares model predictions to observed data. He maintains Vox Charta and the Open Astronomy Catalogs (AKA Astrocats)

Introducing Abigail Stevens

Abigail Stevens is a PhD candidate at the Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She researches X-ray spectral variability from compact objects (stellar-mass black holes and neutron stars) in order to understand the extreme physics in strong gravitational fields, and is very excited for NICER to be launched in a few months. Abbie is also a “pythonomer” and is involved in the open science community. Previously, Abbie did her MSc at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and her BA at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, USA. In addition to her astronomy research, she enjoys tea, interior design, memes, reading blogs, watching tv, and exploring new places.

Introducing Ana Weigel

Anna Weigel (@annakweigel) is a third year Ph.D. student at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. Her research focuses on the connection between galaxies and their black holes. Specifically she studies if and how active black holes might be shutting down star formation in their host galaxies. Instead of closely examining single objects, Anna is combining phenomenological and statistical approaches. This means looking for trends and correlations in the local galaxy population as a whole.

Anna received her B.S. in physics from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and then moved to Switzerland for her M.Sc. in physics at ETH. Before starting her Ph.D., she spent three months at the Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing in beautiful Melbourne. Anna enjoys teaching, which is part of her Ph.D. student duties, and doing outreach. For example, building galaxies with kids has taught her that 7-year olds and glitter glue do not mix well. From time to time Anna also likes to visualise science in the form of delicious cakes.

Introducing Elaina Hyde

I am currently a part time lecturer at the University of Western Sydney in Australia as well as the Information Support Officer for the International Telescope Office at the Australian Astronomical Observatory. I also do public astronomy tours as a guide at Sydney Observatory. All this is motivated by my passion for astronomy, physics and exploration. This passion has led me through a bachelor’s in Astronomy and Physics (with minors in Optical Engineering and Planetary Sciences) at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, a research program at the Max-Plank Institute, a masters program in Astrophysics from the University of Amsterdam and my PhD studies at Macquarie University. These studies allowed me to participate in research on both optical spectra, abundances, and kinematics as well as lithographic construction of photonic crystals for use in submillimeter and radio astronomy; planetary sciences and engineering pnCCDs for X-ray astronomy.

I am very interested in observational astronomy as well as the theory behind it, and, yes, even the data management. I participated in the project ASTRO in Tucson, Arizona where we used both theory and observations to involve school teachers and their classes in astronomical research. I also enjoy giving public talks and participating in public observing or ‘star parties’ where the knowledge that I have gained can be shared with the larger community. I find the study of stars and binary stars in late stages of stellar evolution very exciting. I also enjoy planetary sciences, Archaeo-astronomy, and space sciences (in particular Mars satelite imagery via THEMIS) and exoplanet studies, although so far these have been mostly investigated in my free time. For my current science research I am primarily interested in the study of spectral features and the use of ground-based as well as space-based observatories to pursue the realm of Galactic Archaeology and Stellar Streamers in our own local group in particular the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy and its associated stream. Most recently I submitted conference proceedings for the recent ADASS meeting in Sydney on data selection techniques and a paper on the interesting black hole binary LMC X-1 from the perspective of the O star.