Please welcome our 2023 Catalyst Fellows

Eight headshots stacked together of the selected Catalyst Fellows for 2023.

The second cohort of LSST Discovery Alliance Catalyst Fellows funded by the John Templeton Foundation has begun!

The Catalyst Fellowship aims to realize the full potential of the Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST), both through new discoveries and by creating exceptional opportunities for astrophysics and social science researchers, including those from traditionally under-represented groups and institutions. Fellowships are held at a variety of US or international host institutions.

Check out each fellow’s planned research and other activities related to Rubin LSST.

Aritra Ghosh

During my fellowship, I will develop custom machine-learning frameworks to analyze the hundreds of millions of galaxies that Rubin LSST will observe in its first few years. By comparing what the algorithms find to what has been predicted by detailed astrophysical simulations, I hope to shed new light on how the shapes and sizes of galaxies evolve over time and the role that is played by active black holes in this process.  I will also focus on understanding and removing barriers to Rubin access for the broader astronomical community and training a diverse next generation of Rubin users by leveraging the University of Washington’s PRE-MAP program.

I am excited about beginning my Catalyst Fellowship next month because it provides a really unique opportunity to combine my love for data science, extragalactic astronomy, and making a positive impact on the broader astronomical community. 

Carrie Holt

My research will focus on preparing LSST pipelines for moving objects and coordinating follow-up observations using LCO, queued observing using AEON, and amateur observers. I am specifically interested in faint and distantly active comets. Because comets are some of the most primitive objects in our Solar System, understanding their evolution will provide insight into the conditions of the early Solar System.

I am looking forward to creating more mentoring networks and engaging underserved communities with observing opportunities. I am most excited about the mentoring and collaboration committee aspect of the fellowship. I plan on taking full advantage of the widespread expertise of researchers from around the globe.

Xiaolong Li

My research focuses on preparing for the upcoming LSST sky survey, helping shape its observing strategy to enhance its scientific potential, and developing modern analytic methods to identify and characterize rare and novel transient events that LSST will uncover. I am in the process of developing a comprehensive toolbox that leverages data science and artificial intelligence techniques for studying a rare and special phenomenon, light echoes, the reflections of stellar explosions on interstellar dust, which will be of significant importance in the LSST era. LSST will open up new windows for transient science with its spatio-temporal coverage, providing us tremendous opportunities for discovery. I plan to organize events, such as data science hackathons and workshops, to make the experience of doing science with LSST more accessible and enjoyable. The Catalyst Fellowship provides me with a unique opportunity to advance my career and make contributions to the LSST community.

Throughout my Ph.D. studies, I have received invaluable support from this dynamic community, and I am eager to continue contributing to it and working on the Rubin LSST data once the survey begins. One of the most exciting aspects of the Catalyst Fellowship is its diversity of mentors and fellows. The diverse backgrounds bridge the gap between astrophysics and social sciences, promoting interdisciplinary collaboration, which will be essential in addressing the complex challenges and opportunities presented by LSST. I look forward to being a part of it.

Aarya Patil

Aarya Patil is an LSST Discovery Alliance Catalyst Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Germany. Her research lies at the intersection of astrophysics, statistics, and computer science. She uses large-scale surveys of the Milky Way to help answer how the Galaxy formed in the early universe and evolved. LSST will provide multi-dimensional observations of billions of stars in our Galaxy out to unprecedented distances, and she plans to analyze this Big Data to unravel the history of our Galaxy.

She is passionate about open-source software development for the astronomical community at large. She aims to work with the LSST Interdisciplinary Network for Collaboration and Computing (LINCC) to develop software tools for LSST and help train astronomers to best use Rubin databases. In particular, she would like to continue her work with the Astropy project and the Pan-African School for Emerging Astronomers to run data science workshops for underserved communities. She also wishes to collaborate with the social science fellows on best practices for developing scientific software. The Catalyst fellowship is a unique opportunity focusing on three aspects of modern astronomical research: data-driven discovery, the technical and social aspects of interdisciplinary collaboration, and community-wide impact. Aarya is excited about working on all three of these.

Charlotte Olsen

My primary focus has been to examine how neighbors influence galaxy evolution through the use of galaxy star formation history (SFH) reconstruction. The deep imaging of LSST offers a unique opportunity to examine how galaxies are affected over time by the presence of structural features such as filaments and sheets, both large and small. At CUNY City Tech, I’m collaborating with Charlotte Welker, who is an expert in galaxy evolution in relation to the environment. Here I will be using mock Rubin photometry on simulations to detect traces of interactions within galaxy SFHs before applying these techniques to observations. My time at CUNY City Tech will also allow me to use LSST data to craft a near-peer research mentoring project, where under my supervision, senior students will develop Rubin-based research projects that they can lead freshman and sophomore students in. This will not only give broad access to the population to research experience but will also create a curriculum that teaches mentorship and project management. This project is designed to give the diverse student body of the CUNY system strong research experience for both grad school and industry career tracks while also training future members of the LSST collaboration. 

I applied for a Catalyst Fellowship because it was both literally and figuratively my dream job. I’ve been on the periphery of a few LSST projects over the last couple of years, and I loved how LSST-DA prioritized both the scientific and human aspects of the collaboration. Even as a bit of a self-perceived misfit, I was welcomed and felt that I could contribute to both scientific explorations and help open the doors to others. The depth and scope of the survey are so profoundly exciting to me as a scientist, and I’m thrilled to be part of and contribute to the discoveries that will be made. 

Shreya Anand

As a Catalyst Fellow, I will work on searching for kilonovae – optical/near-infrared transients powered by the radioactive decay of the heaviest elements in the Universe – with the LSST. These transients tend to be faint and red and can fade within hours of being detected, making them elusive to discovery. I will work on combining the deep and red-sensitive LSST observations with other shallower but higher cadence optical surveys, especially in the Southern Hemisphere, to enable automated, serendipitous kilonova discovery. I also plan to help formulate and execute strategies to search for kilonovae associated with neutron star mergers detected by the International Gravitational Wave Network (IGWN) within large sky-error regions.

During my fellowship, I also look forward to helping organize a Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at my host institution. I plan to join the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee as a part of the LSST Transients and Variable Stars (TVS) collaboration and start trainings to improve the climate for early-career scientists within the collaboration.  I’m excited about receiving mentorship from the leading experts in the field and working with a diverse cohort of fellows on the cutting-edge data from LSST during my Catalyst Fellowship.

Tiffany Nichols

Tiffany Nichols is a postdoctoral research associate and LSST-DA Catalyst Fellow in the Departments of History and Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University. She focuses on the intersection of the history of physics, astrophysics, and astronomy, environmental history, and legal history.  Nichols’s research focuses on how physicists and astronomers understand noise and disturbances originating from the natural and built environment and its effects on highly precise and sensitive instruments and research endeavors, such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST). She is particularly interested in instances when such noise and interference cannot be controlled within the experiment and through data analysis, resulting in the need for social-scientific and legal-scientific solutions.

Given her transdisciplinary focus on surrounding communities affected by activities at science facilities, she is engaged in public outreach and federal and international science and technology policy development for issues ranging from noise mitigation to minimizing light pollution. She holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, and J.D. from the University of Virginia, and an A.M. and Ph.D. in History of Science from Harvard University. Nichols also has extensive experience in intellectual property litigation and related areas of law prior to her Ph.D. studies. She is advised by Laura Edwards, Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty and Professor of History in the Department of History, and Michael Strauss, Chair of the Department of Astrophysical Sciences and Professor of Astrophysical Sciences.

Nichols applied for the Catalyst Fellowship to make contributions to a key astronomy survey and enhance her research agenda through the ability to collaborate with scientists of the LSST and gain a detailed understanding of how they conceptualize environment and observatory.  She is most excited about observing (and contributing) to the evolution of LSST as it moves from commissions to observation and developing policy and legal solutions to mitigate the effects of light pollution on the incredible data and science that the LSST will produce.

Tim Sacco

Sacco’s research explores the dynamics of collaboration in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Specifically, Sacco is interested in how the type of institution for which an astronomer works (e.g. research university, community college, etc.) compounds with their race and gender identities to shape their collaborative experiences and opportunities in different ways. He will conduct this study using qualitative interviews with Astronomers from different institution types. Sacco plans to leverage his Catalyst Fellowship to inform best collaborative practices in the Astronomy and Astrophysics community through several strategies, including directly fostering collaborations with Astronomers, participating in white papers and other community-focused publications, and actively engaging with the community at Astronomy meetings and workshops.

Sacco is also a social science collaborator on an NSF Partnership in Astronomy and Astrophysics Research and Education (PAARE) grant and will be providing direct feedback to the PIs about how to better structure their work in order to support undergraduate student trainees entering the discipline.