Meet Tiffany Nichols – Catalyst Fellow

The LSST-DA Catalyst Fellowship is a unique prize postdoctoral fellowship program, funded by the John Templeton Foundation. This fellowship aims to realize the full impact of Rubin Observatory’s LSST by creating exceptional opportunities for astrophysics and social-science scholars who are engaged in both cutting-edge research and significant community impact activities.

Meet Tiffany Nichols, a postdoctoral research associate and LSST-DA Catalyst Fellow in the Departments of History and Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University.  She holds a background in engineering (B.S. in Electrical Engineering from UVa), law (J.D. from UVa), and the history of science (A.M. and Ph.D. from Harvard). Dr. Nichols earned extensive professional experience in intellectual property litigation and related areas of law prior to her Ph.D. studies.

What is the focus of Dr. Nichols’s scholarship and community impact work? 

Her work lies at 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 communities affected by activities at surrounding 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.

What drew Dr. Nichols to the Catalyst Fellowship program?

Nichols applied for the Catalyst Fellowship to make contributions to Rubin Observatory’s LSST and to enhance her research through collaboration with LSST scientists to gain a detailed understanding of how they conceptualize environment and observatory.  Nichols shared “I am excited about observing and contributing to the evolution of LSST as it moves from commissions to observation.  I aim to develop policy and legal solutions to mitigate the effects of light pollution on the incredible data and science that the LSST will produce.”  

What are some of Nichols’s accomplishments as a Catalyst Fellow?

Nichols has been appointed to the American Astronomical Society Committee for the Protection of Astronomy and the Space Environment (AAS COMPASSE) and the International Astronomical Union Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky From Satellite Constellation Interference (IAU CPS). Her article, to be published in June 2024, entitled “Hidden in Plain Sight: Discerning Signal from Noise in the Expanded Laboratory Environment” argues that studies of the environment of observatories and detectors should be expanded to include sources that interfere with the instruments. Nichols is currently preparing two articles on space and dark sky sustainability in collaboration with astronomers, social scientists, and lawyers.

Dr. Nichols’s Catalyst Fellowship advisors are 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.

Please see her presentation – “Progressing Towards Dark and Quiet Skies for LSST and Future Astronomical Observations” located here.