Introducing Emily Sandford

Emily Sandford (@EmSandford) is a PhD student in the Cool Worlds lab at Columbia University. She uses planets to study stars, and she teaches computers how to recognize patterns in planetary transits. She has also worked on detecting dark matter using dissolving star clusters in the Milky Way. She writes for @Astrobites.

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.

Introducing Jennifer Johnson

Dr. Jennifer Johnson is a professor in the Department of Astronomy at Ohio State University. She studies the formation and evolution of the Milky Way and its satellite galaxies and the origin of the elements. Her favorite element is arsenic, followed closely by ytterbium. Jennifer is currently the Spokesperson of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and is particularly involved in the @APOGEEsurvey of the compositions and motions of hundreds of thousands of Milky Way stars. She should really be writing the Data Release 13 paper right now.

Jennifer grew up as a Foreign Service brat in Arlington, Virginia, Prague, Czechoslovakia, Trindid and Tobago, and Bonn, West Germany. She received her B.A. in physics at Carleton College and her Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics from UC Santa Cruz. Her PhD with Mike Bolte focused on deriving ages for stars using the radioactive element thorium, and she continues to try and guess the ages and masses of stars. After postdoctoral fellowships at @CarnegieAstro in Pasadena and at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victora, British Columbia, Jennifer moved to Columbus, Ohio to join the faculty at Ohio State. She is one of the tweeters from the @sdssurveys and @APOGEEsurvey accounts as well as tweeting personally as @jajohnson51.

Introducing Tom Rice

Tom Rice is a second-year astronomy PhD student at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on the environments in which stars and planets are born, and he’s currently working on creating the first catalog of star-forming molecular clouds throughout the Milky Way. In the past, he’s studied how the infrared brightness of young, disked stars changes over time, and for his PhD thesis plans to study the role of nitrogen astrochemistry in planetary formation, with his advisor Ted Bergin.
Tom is an Oregon native and attended Harvard as an undergrad. As a child of deaf adults (CODA), Tom grew up speaking American Sign Language (ASL) alongside English bilingually, and aspires to develop astronomy curricula in ASL for education and outreach to Deaf youth. Tom tweets at @tomr_stargazer when not astro-tweeping, is an avid stargazer and occasional guitarist, and only listens to the Mountain Goats.

Introducing Laura Watkins

This week features Laura Watkins, a postdoc at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.  Laura’s research focuses on the dynamics of stars in globular clusters in the Milky Way. By comparing observations against dynamical models, she learns about their structures and how they formed and evolved. She also models the dynamics of the satellite systems of the Milky Way and Andromeda in order to understand their origins and to weigh the host galaxies. Laura is part of the HSTPROMO collaboration, using HST proper motion measurements to study all sorts of weird and wonderful astrophysical objects.
Laura was born and raised in the UK.  She did her PhD at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge and then spent 3 years as a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg before moving to STScI a year ago. When not being an astronomer, Laura loves ballroom and latin dancing. She also likes reading, baking and travelling. She tweets at @laurawatkins_.