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.

Introducing Saramoira Shields

Saramoira Shields (@mathematigal) is an engineer working for the Space Systems Design Studio at Cornell University. The SSDS is a multifaceted research lab, with active projects in small-scale satellite design, rover design, interstellar and inter-orbit navigation, flux pinning and and non-contact actuation. Previously, she has worked for the Cornell High-Energy Synchrotron Source, as well as for the Cornell Astronomy Instrumentation Group, on the ARCoIRIS ad ZEUS-2 spectrographs. She started out in pure mathematics, and still noodles around in it from time to time. She also loves ultramarathoning, distance hiking, dragon boating and spending quality time with her two cats, Parsec and Ligo.

Introducing John Noonan

John Noonan (@J_Noons) is a graduate student at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. For the last three and a half years he has worked on the European Space Agency Rosetta mission during its rendezvous and escort of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. More specifically, John works on the spacecraft’s ultraviolet spectrograph, Alice. Comets are typically thought of as some of the least altered objects from the beginning of the solar system, and their study helps bring planetary scientists as close as possible to this mysterious time. The ultraviolet realm of the electromagnetic spectrum is particularly useful for studying atomic and small molecular abundances, which is ideal for figuring out the formation location and thermal history of a comet.

John lived the vast majority of his life in the mountains of Colorado before moving to Boulder, Colorado to study Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Quickly after attending his first microbiology class he changed his major to astrophysics and graduated in 2016 summa cum laude. After graduation John continued to work on the Rosetta mission as well as a flight controller for NASA’s CYGNSS mission at the Southwest Research Institute. John moved to Tucson in August 2017 to begin his Ph.D. at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. You can find John riding his bike the vast majority of the time, which he finds to be the best stress therapy around.

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 Steve Crawford

Steve Crawford is the SALT Science Data Manager at the South African Astronomical Observatory. His primary responsibilities include managing the data archives for the Southern African Large Telescope and producing the data pipeline for observations from the telescope. When not helping to run SALT, he carries out research looking at star forming galaxies in galaxies clusters, but is generally interested in how to use optical observations to learn new things about our Universe. He also helps train the next generation of astronomers in South Africa as a lecturing in the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme, develop new instrumentation, and is a contributor to the Astropy project, particularly for development of optical data reduction and analysis software.

Steve Crawford grew up in southern New Jersey just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, which has led to a lifelong obsession and heartbreak with Philly sports teams. He obtained a BA in astronomy and physics from the University of Virginia, and then a PhD in astronomy from the University of Wisconsin on star forming galaxies in galaxies clusters. Almost 10 years ago, he moved to Cape Town and spends his time playing Ultimate Frisbee, being outdoors, or traveling.

Introducing Tanya Urrutia

My name is Tanya Urrutia and I am a postdoc at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam, Germany. It is an institute with quite a history as it once was the old Berliner Observatory, famous for discovering Neptune. By the end of the 19th century, light pollution was so bad in Berlin, that the observatory moved to the outskirts of Berlin to Potsdam. It still hosts two of the largest refractors in the world. Its campus is magnificent and I love working there. I did my undergrad studies here in Potsdam and then moved to the US for 9 years – first my PhD at UC Davis/LLNL and then to IPAC/Caltech for my first postdoc. I loved my time in California, but I am happy to be back in Germany.

My main scientific focus is Active Galactic Nuclei and their role in galaxy evolution. I especially focus on the very luminous part of these active black holes, also known as quasars. The very luminous quasars are thought to be born in mergers and the energies they release are thought to have an effect on its host galaxy shutting down star formation, though we are still not quite clear of the exact physics behind this. I also work on the MUSE instrument, a giant (1’x1′) 3D spectrograph that was installed on the VLT this January and is expected to begin GO observing this October. I have contributed to the data reduction pipeline, a quite difficult undertaking considering that we need to account for 24 IFUs. I am also a member of the GTO science team. One thing is for sure: MUSE will revolutionize the way we think about deep, high redshift surveys, taking spectra of everything(!) within that square arcmin. I write about my experience with life as a postdoc as well as my science at and usually tweet under @astrobellatrix.

Introducing Sarah Tuttle

Sarah Tuttle was born and raised in Santa Cruz, California.  She received her PhD in Astronomy from Columbia University where she flew balloons for a living.  They mostly only crashed in a controlled way, on purpose.  She currently works for McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas at Austin building astronomical instruments and hunting dark energy. As the instrument scientist for VIRUS, she is building a massively replicated spectrograph that takes 33,600 simultaneous spectra to feed 150 identical spectrographs.  When she finishes building them all.  Her science interests currently meander through topics in galaxy evolution, especially gas and the regulation of star formation.   She lives with her husband and children in Austin.  When she isn’t swinging wrenches in the name of science, she is chasing chickens in the backyard or checking on the family beehive.  Sarah loves academia enough to believe it is broken, but worth fixing. She would be happy to fight a cage match about ways we can improve our gender, racial, and socio-economic diversity as a field.

Sarah’s Astrotweeps week can be found here: