Kate Follette

Assistant Professor of Astronomy, Amherst College


Ph.D., University of Arizona, Astronomy
M.S., University of Arizona, Astronomy
B.A., Middlebury College, Physics & Japanese Studies


Amherst College C025 Science Center 25 East Drive Amherst, MA 01002

Phone Number: 




Research Interests: 

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. 

Teaching Statement: 

The overarching goal of my instructional style is to provide opportunities for my students to hone their critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and effective communication skills. All of this, of course, embedded in the rich and fascinating world of modern astronomy and astrophysics. I place a particular emphasis on the numerical skills most essential in spotting pseudoscience and misinformation, as even educated adults are often insufficiently skeptical of the numbers and graphs that they encounter in daily life. These essential “baloney detection” skills include proportional reasoning, order of magnitude estimation, and proper graphical representation of data—all of which are also critical tools for understanding astronomical principles.