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 Sarah Jane Schmidt

Sarah Jane Schmidt (@sjs917) is a postdoctoral fellow at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics – Potsdam (AIP). The unifying theme of her work is the objects she studies: the lowest mass stars and a few of the warmest brown dwarfs. Within those guidelines, she drifts from magnetic activity to kinematics to spectroscopic features to metallicities either on individual objects or using “medium data.” Sarah is primarily an observer and often works with survey data – some of her most exciting recent projects have been with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN), and Kepler K2.
In addition to tweeting a lot about magnetic fields and flares, Sarah plans to also discuss some topics related to equity and inclusion in Astronomy, including her work as co-chair of the Committee on Inclusion in SDSS (COINS).
Sarah grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, then moved to NYC to get a BA at Barnard College (2006) and to Seattle to complete a PhD at University of Washington (2012). Before moving to Berlin, Sarah was the Columbus Postdoctoral Fellow at Ohio State University. Outside work, she nerds out about public transit, sings in multiple choirs, and cooks with her husband.

Introducing Duncan Forgan

Dr Duncan Forgan is a postdoc at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. He did his PhD and first postdoc at the nearby University of Edinburgh, where his focus was simulations of star and planet formation at very early epochs.

During his PhD he explored numerical approaches to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), which often makes headlines. He does his best to parlay this attention into public outreach, engaging with wide audiences from school kids to gamers to prisoners.

He is a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Young Academy of Scotland, a diverse grouping of academics, civil servants and third sector workers gathered to answer the challenges facing Scotland in the 21st Century, and to be a voice for the young.

Duncan will be tweeting from California this week, as he visits the Berkeley SETI Research Center. He’ll still give a flavour of academic life in beautiful St Andrews, and his country life replete with chickens in the back yard, and nosey horses for neighbours.

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 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.