Introducing Jessie Christiansen

Dr. Jessie Christiansen is a staff 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 mission to determine how common planets similar to the Earth might be throughout the Galaxy, and preparing to do the same with TESS. 


Introducing Héctor Vives-Arias

Héctor Vives-Arias (@DarkSapiens) obtained his PhD in Physics at the University of Valencia, Spain, using gravitational lenses to study both the structure of quasars and the distribution of dark matter subhaloes. He is currently a postdoc at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), where he works with ALMA observations of the active galactic nucleus in NGC 1068 to try to understand the structure and kinematics of the dust and molecular gas surrounding its center.
In his last year as an undergrad he got a summer grant at the IAC, where he analyzed the distribution and velocity of the gas in several nearby active galactic nuclei by working with near infrared integral field spectroscopy data from the SINFONI instrument at the VLT. For his Master’s thesis in Valencia, however, he switched to gravitational lens systems in which quasars were multiply imaged by foreground galaxies. Continuing this work on this PhD thesis, he used observations of the Einstein Cross in the optical and mid infrared (from the CanariCam instrument at the Gran Telescopio Canarias) to determine the size and temperature profile of the accretion disk of the quasar by studying the gravitational microlensing in the system, and also to estimate the amount of substructure in the dark matter halo of the lens galaxy that would produce the non-microlensed flux ratios between the quasar images. He also stayed for about a year at the University of Manchester, where he learned to work with radio interferometry data. There, he processed VLA observations of another lens system in order to measure the flux ratios between the multiple images, and to also determine the size of the radio emitting region.
He is currently working on a study of a dozen quadruply lensed systems to estimate the abundance of dark matter subhaloes from the flux ratios between the quasar images in observations of their narrow line regions, radio cores, and dusty tori, while also analyzing ALMA data of nearby active galactic nuclei to study those dusty tori directly in his recently started postdoc at the IAC.
Despite his research focus on active galaxies and dark matter, his scientific interests are much broader than that, and he always tries to keep learning as much as he can about many different fields. He has a passion for science communication that has helped him remain motivated in the low moments of academic life, and he regularly enjoys explaining science on Twitter, blog articles, radio programs, podcasts, and public talks. Other hobbies include archery, drawing, and 3D animation and rendering.

Introducing Quan-Zhi Ye

Quan-Zhi Ye obtained his PhD in astronomy at the University of Western Ontario. He is currently a postdoc at Caltech/IPAC working on solar system observations with the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF). His research interests include small bodies of solar system such as asteroids, comets and meteoroids.

Besides his day(night)-time work, he enjoys doing stargazing and playing string music. As a Chinese native he also regularly engage in public outreach in Chinese languages. He has translated two books into Chinese and has given dozens of lectures and presentation across the country.

Introducing Ward Howard

Ward Howard is a PhD candidate in physics and astronomy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He researches the impact of stellar activity on the detection and habitability of exoplanets around nearby stars by measuring their optical flare rates and energies using data from the Evryscope, an ultra-wide survey of the entire visible sky every two minutes. The Evryscope has produced millions of high-cadence, multi-year stellar light-curves making feasible the long-term monitoring of nearby stars for superflares, flare rates, and starspot activity. He also works with Robo-AO, the first autonomous laser guide-star adaptive optics system, improving image quality for faint targets, particularly for follow-up of the faintest Kepler planetary candidates.

Ward grew up in High Point, NC and was initially inspired to study astronomy by the friendly and enthusiastic staff of the Jamestown, NC Cline Observatory. In 2015, Ward received a BS in physics and mathematics from Union University in Jackson, TN. As an REU student at Baylor’s Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics, and Engineering Research, he studied protoplanetary disk evolution. He enjoys good books (esp. science fiction and fantasy), coffee, physics outreach, and running/hiking.

Introducing Sara Mazrouei

Sara Mazrouei is a PhD candidate in planetary geology at the University of Toronto. Her thesis focuses on the cratering rate on the Moon. She is a science team member on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Diviner team. Sara received her MSc. from York University, where she studied rocks on asteroid Itokawa using data from the Japanese Hayabusa mission. In between her master’s and PhD studies, Sara worked at the European Space Agency, calibrating radio science data from the Venus Express.

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 South Africa, aboard SOFIA, and in Patagonia. 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 Nick Attree

Nick Attree (@nick_attree) is a postdoctoral researcher at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille (@LAM_Marseille) in France. He works on the MiARD (Multi Instrument Analysis of Rosetta Data) project, using modelling and data from ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft to explore the physical and mechanical properties of comet 67P. In particular, he uses OSIRIS camera images to analyse surface features, such as overhanging cliffs and fractures, to investigate the mechanical strength of the nucleus material, as well as navigation and position data, to measure the effects of outgassing on the comet’s orbit.
Nick completed his PhD at Queen Mary University of London, working with Cassini data on collisions in Saturn’s F ring. Before that, he obtained his MPhys degree in Physics with Planetary Science from Leicester University. Outside of research, he enjoys football (watching and playing), walking, reading, sci-fi, music and coffee and exploring his new, adopted home in the sunny South of France!