Kimberly Ward-Duong

Assistant Professor, Department of Astronomy, Smith College
Photo of Prof Ward-Duong with long brown hair wearing blue and white floral shirt smiling at camera in front of tan background.


University of Massachusetts Department of Astronomy LGRT-B 619E 710 North Pleasant Street Amherst, MA 01003-9305



Research Interests: 

I am an observational astronomer who uses a wide range of ground and space-based telescopes and techniques to study the characteristics and environments of nearby stars, brown dwarfs, and exoplanets. From an evolutionary standpoint, I want to understand the relationships between these unique classes of objects, and how we can use observations of them across a variety of ages to better understand star and planet formation. Specifically, my work focuses on the following areas:
Low-mass stars and binaries: The orbital characteristics of stars and brown dwarfs orbiting M-dwarfs are imprinted with signatures of the low-mass star formation process. High-resolution adaptive optics imaging -- and high-contrast imaging in general -- offers a powerful technique to measure these systems and determine their binary and companion properties.
Young stars and circumstellar disks: Studying protoplanetary disks around young stellar and substellar objects reveals important clues to how planetary systems form and evolve, particularly around objects very unlike the Sun. I use submillimeter observations and multi-wavelength spectroscopy to study the dust and gas in these systems at their earliest stages. 
Atmospheres of brown dwarfs: Substellar objects bridge the gap between stars and exoplanets, and provide ideal laboratories to study atmospheric properties and chemistry at cool temperatures -- their spectra are the eminently characterizable counterparts to the exoplanet population, and studying their formation yields important comparisons to giant planet formation.
Direct imaging of exoplanets: Isolating light from giant planets and brown dwarf companions in orbit around much brighter stars requires frontier instruments and techniques. I am part of collaborative teams using high-contrast instruments (such as the Gemini Planet Imager and coronagraphic instruments on HST and JWST) to image nearby planetary systems. These efforts are enabling our future steps toward directly imaging lower-mass -- and someday Earth-like! -- exoplanets.

Teaching Statement: 

The courses I teach focus on the techniques of observational astronomy, data science and statistics for astronomical research, and introductory astronomy. Being a previous FCAD Research and Education Fellow introduced me to the vibrant and talented student community across the Five Colleges, and I am excited that I get to continue developing those teaching and research experiences as faculty. In terms of teaching philosophy, I have the utmost belief in the role of science education to foster the next generation of skilled scientists and engineers, as well as informed, curious, and scientifically literate citizens. This requires a concerted effort on the part of educators to create learning environments that are both challenging and supportive, with clear goals and objectives that encourage students to realize and capitalize upon their own learning strengths and weaknesses. In particular, undergraduate education serves as a critical juncture in academia wherein students gain independence and begin to critically assess the relationships between their efforts and personal growth as learners. I am committed to helping students in this area by providing dedicated commitment to exemplary content and course material, and facilitating an environment of trust and support that promotes persistent, motivated, and productive learner effort.