Grad Student Spotlights

Stella Ocker

I received a B.A. with High Honors in Physics from Oberlin College in 2018. My undergraduate research focused on the scintillation of signals from pulsars, extremely dense, highly magnetized neutron stars with radio wave beams that sweep across the sky like lighthouses. At Cornell I work with Prof. Jim Cordes and Dr. Shami Chatterjee on pulsars, fast radio bursts, and the interstellar medium (ISM). My interests range from using pulsars to model the distribution and turbulent behavior of plasma in the Galactic ISM to characterizing the host environments and intergalactic medium through which extragalactic radio bursts propagate.  My research also looks closer to home: using the Voyager mission’s plasma wave experiment, I study turbulence in the very local ISM just outside of our Solar System. As part of the Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav), we apply our knowledge of the ISM near and far to the effort to detect gravitational waves with pulsar timing at nanosecond precision. Advisor: Professor Jim Cordes

Student Spotlight

In the emptiness of space, Voyager 1 detects plasma ‘hum’

Astronomers seek gravitational waves with renewed NSF grant

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

Nicholas Kutsop

Nicholas “Nic” Walter-Scott Kutsop is a 5th year PhD candidate advised by Professor Alexander G Hayes as a part of the COMPASSE (Comparative Planetology and Solar System Exploration) Research Group []. He receives additional advisement from Professor Jonathan Lunine, as well as Dr. Christophe Sotin, and Dr. Bonnie Buratti at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His thesis is on the spectrophotometric properties of icy solar system bodies. On Titan (Saturn’s largest moon) Nic uses infrared and radar data from the Cassini spacecraft to describe the correlations between types of terrain and their composition. At Pluto, Nic uses high resolution color images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft to characterize the haze in Pluto’s atmosphere. Nic is involved in mission development, for the Europa Clipper mission and CAESAR (Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return) mission. He specializes in trajectory analysis and spacecraft pointing using the Navigation and Ancillary Information Facility’s SPICE infrastructure [].

Nic was awarded the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship in 2018 and the New York Space Grant in 2016 for his work on Titan’s surface composition. He is also partially funded by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and spends his summers and winters working there with collaborators on Titan, Pluto, and mission development. Nic has worked as a teaching assistant in both undergraduate and graduate. As a graduate student, he has mentored several undergraduates working with Dr. Hayes and other graduate students on projects involving Europa, Titan, and comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. He participates in and leads outreach events organized by the Astronomy Department at Cornell, the Astronomy Grad Network, and the Spacecraft and Planetary Imaging Facility. 

Outside of work (if such a thing exists) Nic spends his time hiking, playing video games, and spending time with his family. He is a proud uncle of 14 nieces and nephews and begrudging brother of 6 sisters. He is also a practicing Catholic and enjoys sharing his passion for faith and science with others, especially as an educator to local students. Nic’s ultimate dream is be the principal investigator on a mission of his own design. In particular, he would like to lead an orbiting imaging spectrometer of Titan, Uranus, or Neptune based on the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer aboard the Cassini satellite or a Martian rover designed to explore caves and lava tubes.

Emily Moser

I am currently a 4th-year graduate student working with Professor Nick Battaglia.

Before pursuing my graduate studies at Cornell, I received my undergraduate degree in Astrophysics (B.S.) at the University of Florida with minors in Classical Studies and Mathematics.  As an undergraduate, I worked on projects with Professors Jonathan Tan and Desika Narayanan on characterizing galactic protostellar and galaxy formation simulations, respectively.

Now as a graduate student, I am working on better understanding galaxy evolution through cosmological simulations and observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB).

Ancient light illuminates matter that fuels galaxy formation

Boots in the books: Veterans succeed at academic prep camp

Ngoc Truong

My name is Ngoc Truong, and as of Fall 2021, I am a 5th year PhD candidate working with Prof. Jonathan Lunine. I have been developing outgassing models to connect measurements in the plumes of Enceladus with the composition of the subsurface ocean. A focus of my current research is on noble gases - inert species that are not modified by chemistry and therefore, they are good tracers to understand geophysical processes. One application of the science with noble gases and the outgassing model that I am developing is to constrain the existence lifetime of the subsurface ocean. While much evidence points out Enceladus with a global liquid ocean and some indications of currently active hydrothermal activities, it is still an opening debate about how long the ocean has stayed there (with constraints ranging from few tens million years to billion years). The lifetime of the ocean is an important parameter to assess the potential for life on Enceladus, and further insights to this question will hopefully be revealed with future missions to measure noble gases in the plumes.

Other projects that I have worked on including: constraining the decomposition timescales of different amino acids in water to determine which species should be formed recently in geological timescales rather than the results of primordial processes, that would inform to future in-situ measurements of Enceladus, Europa, and other hydrothermally active ocean worlds (Truong et al., 2019); modeling the entrapment and evolution of volatiles species in cometary ice grains (manuscript in prep). 

Before joining Cornell, I got my Bachelor's degree in Space Science at the University of Science and Technology of Hanoi, in Vietnam. During this time, I did a summer internship with Dr. Pascal Lee at the SETI Institute and Mars Institute on a study of tektites, the terrestrial melted impact ejecta found in Vietnam and surrounding Asia, which the origin of the young impact crater (0.7-0.8 Myr) is still a mystery debate.

Student Spotlight

Trace gas phosphine points to volcanic activity on Venus

Ekaterina Landgren

Ekaterina (Kath) Landgren is a PhD candidate in Applied Mathematics. Her research is in the intersection of applied math and atmospheric sciences. She builds and works with models of varying complexity: from energy balance models to global climate models. She is interested in explaining the underlying mechanisms of atmosphere dynamics from Earth's El Niño to distant exoplanets. Kath uses models to study the atmospheres of Super-Earths and Mini-Neptunes, and to look for planets that might undergo temporary Snowball states.

Applied math/astronomy student receives Zonta Amelia Earhart Fellowship

Trevor Foote

Second-year graduate student interested in analyzing exoplanet atmospheres, specifically to identify potentially habitable planets and detecting bio-signatures.

Received bachelor's degrees from Washington State University, one in Civil Engineering in 2011 and one more recently in Astrophysics (2019).  While working toward my second bachelor's, I worked with Dr. Guy Worthey looking at Type Ia Supernovae (SN Ia) and whether their distance from their host galaxy plays a role in their maximum luminosity as a potential way to explain discrepancy between SN Ia and CMB communities' Hubble constant calculations. 

Outside the department, I enjoy working out, playing ultimate frisbee, and most any activity outdoors.  I also like to keep my construction skills sharp through weekend home projects and volunteering at Habitat for Humanity.

Boots in the books: Veterans succeed at academic prep camp

Maura Lally

I am a first-year graduate student interested in studying exoplanet atmospheres through observation.

I graduated from Northwestern University in 2021, where I researched gamma ray bursts and their host galaxies with Professor Wen-fai Fong. As an undergraduate I also worked with Professor Andrew Vanderburg (MIT) to investigate the possibility of detecting atmospheric variations from a hot Jupiter’s photometric phase curves. At Northwestern, I enjoyed volunteering for outreach activities (such as CUWiP, mentorship through my SPS chapter, and elementary school classroom astronomy visits), and I look forward to participating in outreach through Cornell and in the Ithaca community as well.

Graduate School Recognizes over 40 new NSF GRFP recipients