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Planets like the Earth form in dusty disks around young stars. By observing these circumstellar disks, and in particular by tracing the evolution of dust properties such as grain size and mineralogy, we hope to understand the birth of planets. Understanding the physical processes at work in protoplanetary disks requires resolved, high contrast observations of circumstellar material.
My research involves both the observational study of circumstellar disks using present instruments, and also the development of a powerful new instrument
for future, even higher contrast disk observations. I am carrying out observations of a selected sample of young stars using adaptive optics at Keck Observatory, coronagraphic polarimetry with the Hubble Space Telescope, and more. By comparing the resulting highly multiwavelength datasets with numerical models of circumstellar disks, I can determine both the overall structure of the circumstellar disks, and the detailed properties of the dust grains which compose them. Some of these young stars launch spectacular bipolar outflows, which I am studying with high angular resolution AO integral field spectroscopy.
I am also a member of the team developing the next generation of high contrast disk imager: the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), which will observe both planets and disks around nearby stars. At UCLA, we are building the integral field spectrograph for GPI. My particular focus is on developing GPI's polarimetry mode, but I also collaborate on other aspects of the optical and mechanical design.
Together with this research, I have an educational program which seeks
to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in the scientific community: I will develop and teach an Introductory Astrophysics course for astronomy majors which incorporates best practices from recent educational research which has thus far focused primarily on courses for nonmajors. By improving the traditional lecture-only teaching format with inquiry-based and interactive techniques, I hope to improve the undergraduate experience for students with a diverse range of backgrounds and learning styles.