Introducing Alexis Lavail

Alexis Lavail (@astro_alexis) is a third-year PhD student at Uppsala University, Sweden. His scientific research is focused on the study of magnetic fields of cool stars, particularly pre-main-sequence stars and M dwarfs, using high-resolution near-IR spectroscopy and/or optical spectropolarimetry. Alexis also participates in the CRIRES+ project, upgrading the Very Large Telescope’s CRIRES (near-infrared high-resolution) spectrograph. Together with colleagues in Uppsala, they designed the spectropolarimetry unit that they are currently manufacturing and assembling. Expect tweets about stellar magnetic fields and photos of shiny astronomical instrument parts.

Non-workwise, Alexis might be found taking long walks, brewing beer, baking bread, and feeling sad that there are still people who use Comic Sans.

Introducing Matthew R. Francis

Matthew R. Francis [] is a science journalist, public speaker, educator, and wearer of jaunty hats. He received a PhD from Rutgers University in 2006, where he studied galaxy cluster cosmology, dark energy, and the mathematical structure of gravitational theories. After finishing his doctorate, he taught college and directed a small planetarium in Tennessee.
Since 2011, Matthew has been a full-time science writer, covering astronomy, physics, planetary science, and social issues within science. His articles have been published in Physics World, Symmetry, Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine, Mosaic, Slate, NOVA, and many others. [Link to portfolio: ] He uses his background in research and teaching to help in his writing. As someone who made the transition from academic science to journalism, he mentors others who are interested in making a similar transition.
Beyond science, Matthew is finishing his first novel (well, since his teenage writings, which are best forgotten). He enjoys playing music, reading comics, talking about his cats, and taking Star Wars far too seriously. He is on Twitter @DrMRFrancis more than he should be.

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 Joanna Bridge

Joanna Bridge is a sixth-year PhD candidate at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania. She studies galaxy evolution using emission lines to study properties such as star formation rate, mass, metallicity, and dust geometry. Using Hubble Space Telescope (HST) spectroscopic data, Joanna is particularly interested in tracing the evolution of emission lines across cosmic time, from nearby galaxies to the very first galaxies that formed in the universe.

Joanna received her B.S. in Engineering Physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.  In addition to studying physics, she also acquired minors in both Astronomy and Classical Civilizations, interests that are connected through the history of astronomy and Greco-Roman mythology. As a graduate student, she was the recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship and a NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant Fellowship. She spent last year pursuing her research at Stockholm University in Stockholm, Sweden as an NSF Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) Fellow.  Outside of research, Joanna is a member of the Astrobites (link here to team, distilling current astronomical research papers and writing summaries to share astronomy with a wider audience.  In her free time, Joanna likes to read and do karaoke.

Introducing Jessica Noviello

Jessica Noviello (@jessicanoviello) is a third-year PhD candidate at the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ. Her research focuses on chaos on Jupiter’s ocean moon, Europa, and how it relates to heating patterns within icy moons. How chaos forms is still an open question due to a lack of high-resolution imaging at a global or regional scale, but evidence strongly indicates that liquid water is involved in its creation. Knowing the global distribution of chaos better will help refine chaos formations models to learn about how heat and liquid water are transported within an icy shell, which has implications for planetary evolution and astrobiology. Besides Europa and other icy moons, her academic research interests include asteroids, paleontology, and statistics.

Jessica received her BS degree from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD in Physics and Earth and Planetary Sciences. While there she was the first student accepted to the new Space Science and Technology minor program, which she helped to develop and popularize. She actively pursues opportunities for science communication by sharing scientific updates on social media and volunteering for organizations like Science Olympiad. When she is not absorbed in her Europa research, Jessica enjoys hiking, reading, playing board games and heckling bad science-fiction movies with her friends, and practicing Krav Maga.

Introducing Fiona Panther

Fiona Panther is a PhD student at the Australian National University’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Canberra, Australia. Her work spans theoretical, computational and observational astrophysics, and she focuses on understanding how positrons propagate in astrophysical plasmas and galactic outflows, how host galaxy environments influence peculiar thermonuclear supernovae and their progenitors, and how the rates of peculiar supernovae vary over cosmic time. She is a member of the SkyMapper telescope team, based at ANU, as well as the Dark Energy Survey and the related spectroscopic followup survey OzDES.

She was born in Northumberland in the UK, and emigrated to New Zealand with her family when she was 15. She received a BSc(Hons) degree in mathematics and physics from the University of Auckland. Her honours project focussed on the effects of General Relativity on the dynamics of the Milky Way’s nuclear star cluster. She moved to Australia in mid-2015 to start her PhD at ANU.

Fiona contributes a substantial amount of time to education and outreach. She has worked as a teaching assistant, laboratory demonstrator and guest lecturer at both the University of Auckland and the Australian National University for a number of courses. She particularly enjoys working with school groups that visit the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and was among those who helped prepare Mt Stromlo’s Visitor Center for its reopening in September 2016.

Outside of astronomy, Fiona has a strong interest in mathematics, computational techniques and bibliometrics. When not working on her PhD, she can be found playing ultimate frisbee or exploring Canberra on her bike.