Introducing Maria Womack

Maria Womack (@StarzanPlanets) is Research Professor of physics at the University of South Florida in Tampa.  Her research involves multi-wavelength spectroscopy of comets and exoplanets. She is mainly interested in the chemical abundances and physical parameters that can be measured from volatiles with spectroscopic techniques. Lately, her cometary interests have focused on the activity of distant comets: those that are too far from the Sun for water ice to sublimate, but nonetheless have comae. Her work on exoplanetary science was mostly devoted to extracting signal from relatively faint ground-based spectra of hot Jupiters and super-Earths, which gave her a deep appreciation to the problems of Earth-atmosphere contamination.

Maria earned a B.S. in physics from Florida State University and a Ph.D. in physics from Arizona State University. She held a postdoctoral position in astronomy/planetary science at Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff) and her first faculty position was at Penn State Behrend (Erie). After three years, she left Erie to start a new faculty position at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, where she worked for 18 years. She carried out research with over 60 undergraduate students and managed student-run observatories at both universities. From 2011-2015 she worked as a ‘rotating’ astronomy program director to the National Science Foundation. She used her cometary and exoplanetary expertise at NSF to manage the stellar and planetary astronomy individual investigator grant programs; and to help create and establish the joint NASA-NSF EXPLORE program for exoplanetary science. She started her USF faculty position in 2015 and occasionally helps out NSF as a part-time “expert.”


Introducing Jonathan Nichols

Jonathan Nichols is a Lecturer and Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Advanced Fellow in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester.  His background is the magnetic fields and auroras of the outer planets, and more recently exoplanets and ultra-cool dwarfs.   He obtained his PhD from the University of Leicester in 2004 and, following a spell at Boston University, returned to the Leicester, where he is now in the 4th year of an Advanced Fellowship and a lecturer. 

Jonathan uses a combination of computational modelling, spacecraft data analysis (where available!) and remote sensing to study the magnetospheres and auroras (“northern/southern lights”) of Jupiter, Saturn and similar bodies beyond the solar system.  Specifically, he uses the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the UV auroras on the outer planets, and compares these with theoretical models in order to discover how their magnetospheres behave.  Similar ideas regarding the dynamics of these magnetosphere can be applied to exoplanets and brown dwarfs, leading to novel methods of characterising or possibly even detecting these objects.  

Jonathan normally tweets at @jonny_nichols

Introducing Emily Rice

Emily Rice is an assistant professor in the Dept. of Engineering Science & Physics at the College of Staten Island (City University of New York), faculty in Physics at the CUNY Graduate Center, member of CUNY Astro, and resident research associate in the Dept. of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. She studies low mass stars, brown dwarfs, & exoplanets by studying their spectra and modeling their atmospheres. Additionally she is a co-author of a new lab manual for introductory college-level astronomy courses.

She frequently give public presentations, including at the Hayden Planetarium. Emily also makes fun videos, organize astronomy presentations at bars, and share science fashion. Some past projects include AMNH’s Science Bulletins and Cosmic Discoveries iPhone app.

You can find Emily tweeting at @emilylurice.