About

Standing in front of a scanning electron microscope image of a chondritic meteorite, Semarkona. Red, green and blue represents iron, magnesium and silicon, respectively.

Standing in front of a scanning electron microscope image of a chondritic meteorite, Semarkona. Red, green and blue represents iron, magnesium and silicon, respectively.

Hi there, I'm an Astrophysics PhD student at UC Santa Cruz, working with Professors Jonathan Fortney and Myriam Telus on understanding super-Earth and other low-mass exoplanet atmospheres via experiments and modeling tools. I currently work on meteorite outgassing experiments to inform our understanding of the initial atmospheric compositions of low-mass exoplanets. Outgassing during planetary accretion and differentiation is believed to be an important process by which rocky planets form their initial atmospheres. However, we currently do not have a first-principles understanding of how to connect a planet’s interior to its atmospheric properties. Since meteorites are believed to be somewhat representative of the building blocks of planets, my outgassing experiments will help inform this interior-atmosphere connection for low-mass planets (paper coming soon!). For more information about this project, check out a talk I gave this summer at Exoclimes V at the University of Oxford (Talk Video).

Bunny-suited up to repair our mass spectrometer in the clean room.

Bunny-suited up to repair our mass spectrometer in the clean room.

In general, my research interests include (exo)planetary atmospheres, experimental cosmochemistry, the study of how planetary systems form and evolve, the intersection between theoretical and observational astrophysics, planetary science and astrobiology. I am originally from Reston, Virginia and received my B.A. in astrophysics with honors, along with a minor in astrobiology, from Princeton University in June 2016. I recently received my M.S. in astrophysics from UCSC in June 2019.

I spent the 2016-17 academic year as a research trainee at the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) in Washington, D.C., under the mentorship of Drs. Alycia Weinberger and Alan Boss. During my time at DTM, I performed data analysis of an unusually warm, dusty debris disk surrounding a binary star system using the SOFIA airborne observatory (Thompson et al. 2019a). The most likely explanation for such copious amounts of warm dust surrounding these stars is a catastrophic collision between planetary-scale bodies (stay tuned for a press release coming in October 2019!). In addition, I helped with the photometric calibrations for the Carnegie Astrometric Planet Search program, which will find exoplanets, brown dwarfs and stellar companions.

While at Princeton, I conducted several independent research projects during my junior and senior years related to exoplanets, including a preliminary study of the distribution and demographics of exoplanets found in binary star systems for those stars analyzed by NASA’s Kepler satellite. For my senior thesis research, I worked with Professor David Spergel on a project that developed an original approximate model to aid in the astrometric detection and characterization of multiple exoplanet systems. 

Rocket and I hiking in Santa Cruz CA, 2019

Rocket and I hiking in Santa Cruz CA, 2019

My prior research experience includes working at Caltech’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center under the mentorship of Dr. Davy Kirkpatrick.  Analyzing data from the WISE satellite, we discovered over 40 previously undetected brown dwarfs (Thompson et al. 2013). In addition, I have interned at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium.  

When I'm not doing science, I love traveling, reading, exploring beautiful Santa Cruz and practicing yoga. I also spend lots of time hanging with my Shih Tzu/Ewok pup, Rocket (follow along her adventures on Instagram @rocket_ishihtzunot)!