Introducing Cayman Unterborn

I am a 5th year Ph.D Candidate at The Ohio State University working in the School of Earth Science. My research looks at what it takes to build a habitable planet from a geologic perspective rather than the more traditional definition of the “habitable zone”. My work blends astronomy, geology and physics to understand which planetary compositions produce a planet able to sustain liquid water on its surface as well as control the carbon content of the atmosphere. On the Earth, this regulation of water/carbon is a consequence of plate tectonics, which in turn is driven by compositional differences in the mantle and an internal heat budget great enough to support interior convection. My previous work has looked at some of the extremes of this “geologic habitable zone”, such as so called “diamond planets” as well as measuring stellar Thorium abundance as a proxy for extrasolar heat budgets. The end goal of my research is to understand just how special the Earth may be with regards to it being habitable, or perhaps there are a range of compositions, perhaps even very un-Earth-like ones, that are able to produce dynamic planets capable of sustaining surface water and maybe even conditions to support life.


Introducing Emily Rice

Emily Rice is an assistant professor in the Dept. of Engineering Science & Physics at the College of Staten Island (City University of New York), faculty in Physics at the CUNY Graduate Center, member of CUNY Astro, and resident research associate in the Dept. of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. She studies low mass stars, brown dwarfs, & exoplanets by studying their spectra and modeling their atmospheres. Additionally she is a co-author of a new lab manual for introductory college-level astronomy courses.

She frequently give public presentations, including at the Hayden Planetarium. Emily also makes fun videos, organize astronomy presentations at bars, and share science fashion. Some past projects include AMNH’s Science Bulletins and Cosmic Discoveries iPhone app.

You can find Emily tweeting at @emilylurice.

Introducing Jo Barstow

Jo is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford. She studies the atmospheres of planets both inside and outside the solar system. Clouds on these planets tend to get in the way of finding out other things about their atmospheres, so she has decided to embrace this fact by taking a particular interest in modelling clouds. Jo is also a keen science outreacher and one of her favourite activities is making model comets out of dry ice.

Jo studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge before crossing to the dark blue side for her DPhil (Oxford’s fancy name for a PhD). She has been working in Oxford since the completion of her doctorate in 2011. When she’s not doing science, she loves reading, singing and taking part in/watching musical theatre — in April she’ll be getting her habit on for an amateur production of Sister Act! She usually tweets about science and singing from @DrJoVian.

Introducing Jayne Birkby

This week features Jayne Birkby, a NASA Carl Sagan postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Astrophysics (CfA) at Harvard University. Jayne’s research focuses on determining the chemical make up of exoplanet atmospheres in order to understand how and where such planets are born and evolve. Ultimately, she aims to use her observing techniques in the future on extremely large telescopes to identify signs of life (biomarkers) on Earth-like planets elsewhere in the Milky Way.
Jayne grew up in England and studied at Durham University for her Masters in Physics and Astronomy. She then moved to the University of Cambridge where she undertook her PhD studying the smallest stars in our galaxy, the M-dwarfs, and looking for their companion exoplanets. Afterwards, Jayne headed over to Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands for her first postdoc to study exoplanet atmospheres. After three years surrounded by canals, bicycles, and stroopwafels, Jayne departed Leiden in June this year and followed in the path of the pilgrims over to Boston to begin as a fellow at the CfA. One of the favourite parts of Jayne’s work is when she goes to telescopes to collect data and gets to watch the sun set and rise over some breathtakingly beautiful and remote locations. She hopes one day we will do this on other planets too. You can find Jayne over at @jaynebirkby during the rest of the year.

Introducing Meg Schwamb

This week, January 27-February 1, 2014, features Meg Schwamb. Meg is an Academia Sinica Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Academia Sinica (ASIAA) in Taipei, Taiwan. She is a planetary scientist and astronomer interested in planet formation and the evolution of planetary systems including our own Solar System. She is searching for exoplanets with the Planet Hunters citizen science project, which enlists members of the general public to search for the signatures of transiting exoplanets in data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. Meg uses the results from Planet Hunters classifications  to explore the frequencies of planetary systems. In addition, Meg is a science team member of  Planet Four , a citizen science project to study the Martian climate  by utilizing human pattern recognition to map seasonal fans on the South Pole of Mars.  Meg also has studied the small body populations of the outer Solar System in the Kuiper belt and beyond. In her spare time, she can usually be found baking and hanging out with her black cat Stella. The other 51 weeks of the year, you can find Meg at @megschwamb.