Grad Student Spotlights

Abhinav Jindal

My research interests include understanding the evolution of terrestrial planets and what makes a planet habitable. I am also interested in the search for life beyond Earth.
My current research focusses on analyzing the lithospheric structure of Venus. Venus is very similar to Earth in both size and density, suggesting that the two should have similar heat sources. A misleading hypothesis might be that the tectonics of Venus would be similar to Earth, however, we now know this is untrue and mantle convection on Venus has a different surface expression than the Earth. The pressing question of why Venus and Earth evolved so differently thus also arises for the surface and interior. Studying the mantle convection and lithospheric structure of Venus and understanding why it diverged from Earth will help us shed new light on the evolution of terrestrial planets. The surface of Venus consists of some of the longest channels known in the Solar system. These channels, termed “Canali”, can be up to 6,800km in length and maintain almost constant width throughout their course. My goal is to analyze deformation features along the flow of these Canali and then model their observed frequencies to predict the thickness of the Venusian lithosphere.
I am also working on generating digital topographic models (DTMs) for Saturn's largest moon Titan. Titan is the only extraterrestrial body known to have an active hydrological cycle and support stable liquid bodies on its surface. Apart from hydrocarbon lakes and seas, Titan's surface also comprises of mountains, dunes and impact craters. The Cassini mission competed over a 100 targeted flybys of Titan and gathered synthetic aperture (SAR) images. Some of these images overlap with one another and give rise to stereo-pairs. Using the parallax distortions that arise when viewing the surface of Titan from different directions, we can extract the topographic relief of Titan's surface and thus generate DTMs in selected areas with a horizontal resolution of a few km and a vertical precision of a few hundred meters. 

Apart from my research, I really enjoy teaching and astronomy outreach! I've been a teaching assistant for introductory astronomy courses and been involved with several outreach events with the department. In my free time, I love playing squash, soccer, and hiking. Advisor: Professor Alex Hayes

Alexia Kubas

Hello! My name is Alexia and I began my Ph.D. at Cornell in Fall 2022. Advised by Dr. Britney Schmidt, I research periglacial processes on Earth and Ceres through geophysical and numerical modeling techniques. I am interested in what drives pingo (ice-cored hills in permafrost regions) formation and evolution on Earth and whether these landforms exist on other planets, like Mars and Ceres. Pingo location, morphology, and evolution provide insight into complex interactions between groundwater and ice and, ultimately, the subsurface hydrology of planets.

I earned a Bachelor of Science in Astronomy with minors in Physics, Mathematics, and Planetary Sciences from the University of Arizona in 2022. In my free time, I love singing, reading, drinking coffee, and being outdoors!

Advisor: Professor Britney Schmidt

Christopher Rooney

I am in my final year as a graduate student working on sub-millimeter observations of high-redshift galaxies. I am the current lead for Cornell's sub-millimeter grating spectrometer ZEUS-2 (the second generation z [redshift] and Early Universe Spectrometer). ZEUS-2 uses bolometer arrays for detectors, and recently two new arrays have been added to the instrument, operating in the 200 and 600 micron bands. I have led three observing runs at the Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment (APEX) telescope.

I received undergraduate degrees in physics and astronomy from the University of Kansas in 2017. While there, I worked on experimental cosmology, in particular the large-scale statistics of galaxy peculiar velocities.

My personal website is

Research Focus

Advisor: Professor Gordon Stacey

Trevor Foote

Mr. Trevor Foote is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate working with Prof. Nikole Lewis. His research interests include characterization of exoplanet atmospheres, especially toward the goal of identifying potentially habitable planets and detecting bio-signatures. With his background in engineering, he is also interested in detector development for use in the analysis of these far-off worlds.

His academic path has been a non-traditional route receiving two bachelor's degrees from Washington State University, one in Civil Engineering in 2011 and another in Astrophysics in 2019. During the time in between these two degrees, he served in the U.S. Army as an Engineering Officer followed by work in the construction industry as a Project Engineer.

Since 2021, Mr. Foote as been primarily working on the Pandora SmallSat Mission. He started as a graduate student job shadow to the lead instrument scientist Dr. Tom Barclay and has since become a contributor to the mission. His work on the mission has spanned a wide variety of projects from developing a 2D image simulator for the near-IR detector to creating an observation scheduler. His current project is to conduct characterization testing on the near-IR detector that will be on Pandora and from those tests create the reference data products that will be used within the data processing pipeline. Outside of his work on the Pandora mission, Mr. Foote as been involved in reducing observations from both Hubble and JWST, including a full atmospheric analysis on the hot Jupiter, WASP-79b, using secondary eclipse observations from Hubble.

Outside of research, Mr. Foote enjoys working out, fixing things around his home, and woodworking in his garage.

Research Focus

Advisor: Professor Nikole Lewis

Boots in the books: Veterans succeed at academic prep camp

Christopher O’Connor

I am a Ph.D. candidate working with Prof. Dong Lai on astrophysical dynamics. I earned my bachelor's degree in 2018 from the University of California, Los Angeles. In the summer and fall of 2022, I was a Graduate Fellow at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, California. I expect to graduate in the spring of 2024.

My current research focus is the evolution of planetary systems around evolved stars and white dwarfs. I am interested in a variety of topics in stellar and planetary astrophysics, such as the dynamics of star clusters, tidally interacting binaries, star-planet mergers, planetesimal reservoirs, and interstellar comets.

From 2020 to 2022, I served in the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly as Field Representative for Astronomy and Space Sciences and as a Voting Member for the Division of Physical Sciences. I am currently an organizing committee member for the annual Emerging Researchers in Exoplanet Science symposium.

In my spare time, I have played clarinet and saxophone with the Cornell University Wind Symphony and the Ithaca Concert Band. I also have sung in the Cornell University Chorale.

Research Focus

Advisor: Professor Dong Lai