I graduated in 2010 from Franklin and Marshall College with a BA in Astrophysics. While at F&M I worked with Dr. Fronefield Crawford on an extragalactic pulsar survey and also on pulsar identification algorithms. I am now a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University working with Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger on modeling the climates of potentially habitable exoplanets. I also work with Dr. Natasha Holmes and Dr. Andrea Stevenson Won on using virtual reality in physics education.
Primary research interests: Exoplanet atmosphere characterization and modeling, habitability, biosignatures and their detection, origins of life.
Other interests: Relativity, cosmology, astronomy education, educational psychology, science outreach, data visualizations, and 3D modeling.
Research in Astronomy
My current work in astronomy includes modeling the atmospheres of exoplanets. In particular, I look at how different surfaces would affect the current models we use for simulating exoplanet atmospheres. Making these changes alters the surface temperature of the planet as well as its albedo. The goal is to provide a detailed exploration of how different types of surfaces can be classified by upcoming exoplanet observations. There are two models used to achieve this. A 1D climate model is used to figure out properties such as temperature and composition throughout the atmosphere. A second model determines how the molecules in the atmosphere change over time as they interact with each other and are exposed to sunlight. These two models are able to communicate to each other to find the most stable atmosphere given a set of initial conditions. Once a stable solution is found we determine how that combination of the surface + atmosphere would look when observed.
Research in Education
Through my Graduate Research Teaching Fellowship, I am also working on using virtual reality (VR) in physics/astronomy education. My current project involves building a realistic Sun+Earth+Moon simulation in Unity for the Oculus Rift and developing experiences to teach Moon phases. We are trying to see if such an experience in VR is better at teaching spatial/temporal concepts, like Moon phases, than more traditional computer-based lessons.