I use large ground-based telescopes equipped with a technology called adaptive optics that “de-twinkles” stars so that I can search their environs for young exoplanets (planets around other stars) and circumstellar disks (the disks of gas and dust that form planets). Using a variety of hardware and image processing techniques, I isolate the light emitted by newly-formed planets, and can even break this light into its component colors and constrain the basic properties of the planet’s atmosphere. Although this so-called “direct imaging” technique is currently only capable of isolating light from young Jupiter analogs (already as many as a million times fainter than the stars they orbit, an act analogous to isolating the light of a firefly next to a lighthouse), my colleagues and I are actively working to push the limits of telescope, camera, and image processing technology so that we might eventually image Earth-like exoplanets.
I am also actively engaged in STEM education research. I study the role of mathematics across the curriculum, and I am particularly interested in understanding how general education science courses can be used to improve students’ real world quantitative reasoning skills.