MIT welcomes 2023 Heising-Simons Foundation 51 Pegasi b Fellow Juliana

MIT’s College of Science welcomes Juliana García-Mejía, certainly one of eight recipients of the 2023 51 Pegasi b Fellowship. The announcement was made March 30 by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

The 51 Pegasi b Fellowship offers postdocs with the chance to conduct theoretical, observational, and experimental analysis in planetary astronomy.

García-Mejía, who expects to finish her doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics at Harvard College this spring, might be hosted by the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. She might be mentored by principal investigator Andrew Vanderburg as she works to vogue progressive astronomical devices to find and characterize terrestrial exoplanets round small, cool stars.

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“I’m an instrument builder at coronary heart,” says García-Mejía. “I like spending time within the lab determining easy methods to translate a scientific query into an instrument that may assist to reply it. The best query on the market for me continues to be, ‘Is there life elsewhere within the universe?’”

Rising up in Colombia, García-Mejía break up time between serving to to restore tools at her maternal household’s health enterprise and gazing up on the stars from her paternal household’s espresso farm. She credit this eclectic upbringing with getting ready her, partially, to be the principal investigator of the Tierras Observatory atop Mt. Hopkins, Arizona. Whereas incomes her PhD, García-Mejía was charged with reworking a once-shuttered 1.3-meter telescope for brand spanking new service. She led all points of the design, development, and recommissioning of Tierras, an exquisitely exact, totally automated photometer that accelerates the invention of terrestrial exoplanets orbiting small, cool stars known as M-dwarfs.

“Most PhD college students don’t get the chance to construct one thing as comprehensively as I did,” says García-Mejía. It was excessive danger, however it made my eureka second — seeing that first picture after Tierras got here on-line — so particular.”

The enhancements García-Mejía led embody a novel optical system that enables the telescope to picture a bigger swath of sky, a customized filter that de-clutters atmospheric results like water vapor from photographs, and a robotic mode to seize knowledge night time after night time.

“The explanation Tierras can examine terrestrial exoplanets, the potential moons of those and bigger worlds, and their host stars, is as a result of it was purpose-built for reaching a excessive degree of precision,” she says. “We are able to detect tiny adjustments within the brightness variation of the star from the bottom whereas inoculating our observations from the perilous results of the environment. No different ground-based facility can do that.”

Throughout her fellowship, García-Mejía will use Tierras to seek out Earth-like planets round M-dwarf stars, undertake a scientific seek for moons and rings round exoplanets, and examine the celebs themselves to know their affect on the planets they host. In tandem with this work, García-Mejía will design a next-generation, high-resolution instrument with the aim of in the future enabling oxygen detection in exoplanet atmospheres. Her analysis will bolster the census of newfound worlds — prime targets for the James Webb Area Telescope to probe for indicators of habitability.

Established in 2017, the Heising-Simons Basis’s 51 Pegasi b Fellowship is known as for the primary exoplanet found orbiting a sun-like star. The rising subject of planetary astronomy research celestial objects each inside and past our photo voltaic system, bridging planetary science and astronomy. From accelerating our understanding of planetary system formation and evolution in our photo voltaic system and past to advancing new applied sciences for detecting Earth-like worlds, 51 Pegasi b Fellows make distinctive contributions to the sector.

The other 51 Pegasi b Fellows and their host establishments this 12 months are Huazhi Ge and Yapeng Zhang (Caltech); Akash Gupta (Princeton College); Rixin Li (College of California at Berkeley); Ben Ok. D. Pearce (Johns Hopkins College); Maria Steinrueck (College of Chicago); and Samuel Yee (Harvard).

The fellowship offers as much as $415,000 of help over three years for unbiased analysis, a beneficiant wage and discretionary fund, mentorship at host establishments, an annual summit to develop skilled networks and foster collaboration, and an choice to use for an additional grant to help a future place in america.


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