Introducing Abigail Stevens

Abigail Stevens is a PhD candidate at the Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She researches X-ray spectral variability from compact objects (stellar-mass black holes and neutron stars) in order to understand the extreme physics in strong gravitational fields, and is very excited for NICER to be launched in a few months. Abbie is also a “pythonomer” and is involved in the open science community. Previously, Abbie did her MSc at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and her BA at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, USA. In addition to her astronomy research, she enjoys tea, interior design, memes, reading blogs, watching tv, and exploring new places.

Introducing Peter Maksym

Peter Maksym grew up in Wheaton, IL, just a bike ride from Fermilab, and was just learning high school physics when the top quark was discovered. He makes no pretensions to being nearly as awesome as Edwin Hubble or Grote Reber, even though they came from Wheaton, too. After earning his Bachelor’s in astronomy & physics at Yale, Peter worked briefly as an automated publishing consultant in New York, then for 5 years as a data specialist for the Chandra X-ray Observatory. He returned to the Chicago area for his Ph.D. at Northwestern University, is now in the third year of a postdoctoral position at the University of Alabama, and is actively looking for his next position (hire me! –PM). He normally tweets as @StellarBones (Dammit Jim, he’s a doctor, not a physician). His experience as an astrophysicist has been remarkably similar to that of Natalie Portman’s character in “Thor”. He’s also been known to perform improv comedy on occasion.

Peter’s interested in other kinds of “stellar bones”. He’s particularly interested the process of stars being ripped to shreds by the massive black holes which commonly inhabit the hearts of galaxies. These “tidal disruption events” comprise an emerging field with the potential to test extreme accretion physics and black hole populations. He’s also involved in the Galaxy Zoo, currently using extended emission line regions to study galaxies which may have just “shut down” from quasars. Both of these topics coincidentally involve extreme black hole variability, but on very different timescales. He’s more generally interested in black holes of all sizes, and quite a lot of different things involving galaxies and galaxy clusters. His favorite astronomical tools include fine-toothed combs, the kitchen sink, and boneheaded perseverance.

Introducing Doug Burke

This week features Doug Burke.Doug is a Research Astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO),  which is co-located with the Harvard College Observatory (HCO), forming the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Not content with this barrage of names, his position allows him to add that he is a member of the Science Data Systems (SDS) team of the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC). What this barrage of Three-Letter Acronyms (TLA) means is that most of his time is spent on helping Scientists analyze data taken by the Chandra X-ray satellite, one of NASA’s four Great Observatories.

When not helping others, Doug’s research interests are in using Galaxy Clusters to study the structure and evolution of the Universe; using computers to better help us with all this data we find ourselves with (in particular, in how Open Science, semantic technologies, machine learning, functional programming, and other buzz words can help); and exploring how Astronomers use Twitter, in particular at the American Astronomical Society meetings.

Doug tweets at @doug_burke, google plusses at, has code on both GitHub and BitBucket , occasionally shares data on FigShare, likes the Oxford
comma, and is currently wondering why he agreed to do this the same week as he’s madly preparing Halloween decorations for his kids.

Introducing Roy Kilgard

This week features Roy Kilgard. Roy is a research professor of astronomy at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. His job is multi-faceted, involving teaching, research, outreach, telescope maintenance, and student mentoring. Most recently it has also involved restoration of a 100-year-old refracting telescope, a task for which his background in high energy astrophysics has left him woefully unprepared.

Roy’s research focuses on X-ray binary stars in nearby galaxies, especially those that harbor stellar-mass and (maybe) intermediate mass black holes. His work relies primarily on the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and has been featured in several Chandra press releases ( and When not working on black holes, he lectures about astronomy in science fiction and pop culture. Roy normally tweets at @rkilgard.

Introducing Branden Allen

This week features Branden Allen, a staff astronomer at the Harvard College Observatory, part of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Branden’s research has primarily been focused on the development and deployment of next generation X/γ-Ray wide field monitors with the goal of detecting and characterizing a wide range of
high energy phenomena such as Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs) and Supernova. He began his career as graduate student at the University of California, Irvine with the Milagro project (a water Cherenkov all sky TeV γ-ray monitor) and, after graduating in 2007, moved to the CfA joining the ProtoEXIST collaboration which has successfully launched two next generation CdZnTe (CZT) hard X-ray telescopes in two balloon payloads in 2009 and 2012.

In a strange twist of fate he has recently joined the science team of the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission, and has become engaged in the study of near earth objects (NEOs). Here he has been active in the development of the REgolith X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS), a joint Harvard-MIT effort which is the student instrument for
OSIRIS-REx that will characterize the elemental composition of the surface of the asteroid 101955 Bennu. OSIRIS-REx is slated for launch in September of 2016, will reach Bennu in 2018, and return a sample to Earth in 2023.

You can find Branden the rest of the year on Twitter at @fermi_lives


Introducing Rodolfo Montez Jr.

A native Texan, Rodolfo Montez Jr. (who goes by “Rudy”) studied undergraduate Physics and Astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin before moving to the snow-ridden northeast where he pursued graduate studies at the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology. At RIT he was awarded the first PhD granted by the institute in Astrophysical Sciences and Technology. He currently resides at the home of country music, Nashville, TN, where he is a post-doctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University. Rudy divides his time among mentoring students in the Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program and studying X-ray emission from evolved stars. In particular, he co-leads an international collaboration that uses the space-based Chandra X-ray Observatory to survey X-ray emission from dying sun-like stars that have form beautiful planetary nebulae (ChanPlaNS). Rudy sporadically tweets at @rudy_phd.