Introducing John Wenskovitch

John Wenskovitch (@wenskovitch) is a PhD student in the Computer Science Department at Virginia Tech.  His research falls in a zone combining aspects of data visualization, human-computer interaction, and machine learning.  As a part of the Discovery Analytics Center, he works to develop intelligent and interactive techniques for the visualization and exploration of high-dimensional datasets.  His past work in collaboration with astronomers involved visualizing and interactively exploring spectral flux density data from stellar merger simulations.
John is also an amateur astronomer, volunteering his free time at observatories and with his own telescopes to share the otherwise-invisible wonders that can be found telescopically to all who are interested.  He is passionate about astronomical outreach, particularly regarding light pollution and basic science education.  He currently serves as Vice-President of the Roanoke Valley Astronomical Society, and is actively involved in outreach with the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh.
During those unfortunate nights when the moon is full or the weather is sub-par, John is also an avid science fiction reader, mediocre marathoner, accidental artist, nature enthusiast, and traveler (having set foot in 43 US states and 25 countries over the past five years).
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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 Laura Mayorga

Dr. Laura Mayorga (@mayorgalc) is a Harvard Future Faculty Leaders Fellow based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She is interested in exploring the diversity in exoplanet atmospheres by using Solar System objects as analogs for their exoplanet counterparts. From flyby data of Jupiter taken by the Cassini Spacecraft she is laying the groundwork comparison dataset needed to understand the underlying, unresolved phenomena in the atmospheres and on the surfaces of planets around other stars.
A lover of accents and languages if she can’t be Cdr. Spock she would be Lt. Uhura. When not engaged in science research and communication, she enjoys cycling to the closest beach, crocheting the next unfinished project, or playing video games at home where her first duty is to be a warm lap to a caliby named Stellar. She finds the rules for what makes something a cookie vs. a biscuit fascinating and she plays the ocarina while traveling, where the cat won’t try to stop her.

Introducing Bryan Méndez

Bryan Méndez is an astronomer & education specialist at UC Berkeley’s Space Science Laboratory. Dr. Méndez works to educate and inspire others about the wonder and beauty of the Universe. He develops programs for the public through the web and museums; develops educational resources for students, teachers, and the public; conducts professional development for science educators; and teaches courses in astronomy and physics at UC Berkeley and local community colleges.

 The beautiful night sky in his hometown of Traverse City, Michigan inspired Bryan to study astronomy. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1997 with degrees in Astronomy, Physics, and Music. He then continued his studies at the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in 2002 with a Ph.D. in Astrophysics. Dr. Méndez researched the distribution of galaxies in the nearby Universe and its implications for the overall structure of the Cosmos.

He is husband to his best friend and love of his life, father of the most precious twin boys in all the cosmos, a sci-fi/fantasy geek with particular obsessions for Star Wars and Star Trek, a saxophonist, an aspiring filmmaker, and a Californian transplanted from Michigan. Bryan is bicultural, of Mexican and European backgrounds, and strives to foster diverse perspectives in his work.

(Re-)Introducing Simon Porter

Simon Porter (@ascendingnode) is a Research Scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He is a Co-Investigator on NASA’s New Horizons extended mission to encounter the cold classical Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2014 MU69. On the mission, he focuses on the small satellites of Pluto, determining the orbit of 2014 MU69, and the other KBOs that New Horizons is passing along the way. This summer, he is supporting the stellar occultations of MU69s in Senegal. In addition to mission work, he studies the orbital and tidal dynamics of other binary and triple KBOs and Centaurs.

Simon is originally from Burlington, Ontario, Canada, and grew up there, Oxfordshire, and Tennessee. He received a BS in Physics from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and was a undergrad Space Grant intern at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He received his PhD in Astrophysics from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, and was a Predoctoral Fellow at Lowell Observatory. Simon enjoys hiking, aerospace history, and identifying obscure aircraft/rockets/spacecraft.

Introducing Jessie Christiansen

Dr. Jessie Christiansen (@aussiastronomer) is a research scientist at the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at Caltech. She searches for, studies, and catalogues extrasolar planets — planets orbiting other stars. Her main research focuses on using the thousands of exoplanets found by the NASA Kepler and K2 missions to determine how common planets similar to the Earth might be throughout the Galaxy, and she is getting ready to do the same with the NASA TESS mission.

She is an avid science communicator, and is particularly engaged with reaching and elevating under-represented minorities in the sciences. When she is more engaged with this particular planet, she is chasing her twin 3-year-olds around, enjoying various sci-fi/fantasy fandoms, and is married to fellow astronomer @PFHopkins_Astro.

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!