Grad Student Spotlights

Charlene (Charlie) Detelich

I am a second-year Cornell Astronomy Ph.D. student interested in the surface processes of icy satellites. Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter, is densely covered in thousand-kilometer-long fractures called double ridges. Despite the prevalence of double ridges on Europa’s surface, there has yet to be a consensus on what formation process creates the fractures. In preparation for the arrival of NASA’s Europa Clipper mission to Europa in 2029, I am using finite element modeling to help narrow down which hypotheses for double ridge formation are the most plausible. I’m also a graduate affiliate of the Europa Imaging System (EIS) team for NASA’s Europa Clipper Mission, where I create trajectory analysis products to best help the science team with mission planning. Farther into the solar system, Titan, an icy moon of Saturn, has large lakes and seas of liquid methane and ethane. I numerically model wind-driven waves on Titan’s lakes and seas as part of a larger effort to understand wave-driven erosion on the shoreline of the lakes and seas.

Before coming to Cornell in 2022, I earned my B.S. in geology from North Carolina State University (19’) and two minors in meteorology and graphic communications. While at N.C. State, I researched Iapetus, an icy moon of Saturn. I also interned at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL), where I researched Mars. I then earned my M.S. in Applied Geological Sciences (21’) at the University of Alaska Anchorage studying broad-scale tectonics on Europa and how geologic features resemble artifacts of plate tectonics. After completing my M.S., I returned to APL and worked with the EIS team on science operation center (SOC) development, science communication, flyby planning software development, and instrument calibration.

Outside of academia, I gravitate toward artistic activities and am involved in photography, painting, and pottery. I also enjoy hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, listening to records, and spending time with my two cats, Bowie and Mercury.

Diana Solano-Oropeza

Hi, I’m Diana! I use any pronouns (they/he/she, ranked in order of preference). I’m a first-year grad student studying astronomy at Cornell. My main research interests are in exoplanets, stars, and habitability, although it would be nice to try to meet an alien. Historically, I’ve used big datasets such as those collected by TESS and Gaia, statistics, and Monte Carlo methods to try to answer questions around planetary architecture and formation, but I’m constantly expanding my toolbox and my horizons. I’m also an NSF GRFP fellow.


I grew up in New York City (Queens!!!), and went to high school at the Bronx High School of Science. Before entering college, I interned at the American Museum of Natural History, working with Dr. Nathan Leigh to better understand the initial conditions of gravitationally chaotic three-body star simulations. I then moved to Philadelphia to attend Drexel University for undergrad, where I majored in physics with an astrophysics concentration and minored in sociology. There, I produced visualizations of early stellar formation simulations intended to resemble real observations as a means of assessing simulation codes, under Dr. Stephen McMillan’s supervision. For my senior thesis, I made the jump with information science professor Dr. Jake Ryland Williams into the intersection of data science, statistical physics, and computational linguistics. I broke down tens of thousands of digitized books and corrupted them in ways that would disgust the average book-lover to determine where a linguistic law held true, where it broke down, and why. I switched back to astrophysics after graduation, when I entered Columbia University’s Bridge to the PhD in STEM program to work with Dr. David Kipping. Over two years, I led a massive (still ongoing) project to estimate the minimum eccentricities of hundreds of TESS-detected exoplanets orbiting M-dwarfs without radial velocity measurements, via Bayesian analysis.

When I’m not researching or doing homework, I’m usually writing stories, practicing Muay Thai, or playing video games like Fortnite and Kingdom Hearts. I also love talking about science, and drawing from pop culture to do so.

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

Madeline Pettine

Hello! My name is Madeline (or Maddie, whichever you prefer) and I started my PhD at Cornell in Fall of 2021. I use she/her or they/them pronouns-- either are fine! I'm a planetary scientist with research interests inside of our Solar System.

I have a B.A. in Astronomy, Physics, and Math from University of Colorado Boulder. While I was at CU I worked in an experimental atomic physics lab for a couple of years and then quit to go look at planets. I then used a hybrid plasma simulation to model atmospheric loss from Mars-like planets to study the effect of magnetic fields on loss rates, which is the topic I wrote my undergrad honors thesis on.

My current research is on Io, which is the innermost (and my favorite) moon of Jupiter! I work with Dr. Julie Rathbun and Professor Alex Hayes imaging and measuring the flux from volcanic hotspots on Io. We use space-based data (from Juno) and ground-based data (from the IRTF) to see how much heat flow goes through volcanoes on the surface. These measurements will help constrain how tidal heating caused by the other Jovian moons is dissipated inside of Io. 

In my free time I like playing D&D, knitting, painting, reading, and hanging out with my cat Pepperidge Farms!

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