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Michelle Vick

Astronomy & Space Sciences


I am a fifth year graduate student working with Professor Dong Lai. I study tides in eccentric two-body systems ranging from compact binaries to gas giants undergoing high-eccentricity migration. Recently, my work has focused on chaotic dynamical tides in migrating Jupiters. When a gas giant at a few AU is excited into a highly eccentric orbit, strong interactions between the star and planet at pericenter can excite oscillations in the planet. Under the right conditions, these oscillations grow chaotically, rapidly draining energy from the orbit and shrinking the semi-major axis. This mechanism can significantly speed up high-eccentricity migration.

I have also studied gravity waves in white dwarfs that are in eccentric orbits around intermediate mass black holes. These white dwarfs are destined to be shredded by the tidal force of the black hole. However, before they are destroyed, tidal heating can ignite and burn off the white dwarf hydrogen envelope.

I am currently supported by a NASA Earth and Space Sciences Fellowship. I was a TA for Astro 2202 and 1102 in 2015-2016. In my free time I sing in the Cornell Chamber Singers.


  • Astronomy

Graduate Fields

  • Astronomy and Space Sciences


Advisor: Professor Dong Lai


Michelle Vick & Dong Lai. “Dynamical tides in highly eccentric binaries: chaos, dissipation, and quasi-steady state”. 2018, MNRAS, 476, 482,

Michelle Vick, Dong Lai, and Jim Fuller. “Tidal dissipation and evolution of white dwarfs around massive black holes: an eccentric path to tidal disruption”. 2017, MNRAS, 468, 2296,