California Institute of Technology

People

The ExoLab has been steadily growing since its inception in 2009. In its current state, the ExoLab group consists of four postdocs (one of them a Sagan Fellow); seven graduate students, including five in Astronomy, one from Planetary Sciences, and one from Aerospace Engineering; and three Astronomy undergraduate students.

Principal Investigator

Postdoctoral Scholars

Sasha Hinkley

Sasha Hinkley

Sasha Hinkley is a NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at Caltech. His interests are most broadly focused on obtaining direct images of exoplanets—a technique that uses specialized instruments to overcome the huge contrast barrier between a bright star and any faint planets that might be orbiting it.
Website: http://www.astro.caltech.edu/~shinkley/
Funding provided by: NASA Sagan Fellowship & NSF AAPF

Phil Muirhead

Phil Muirhead

I develop novel instrumentation for ground-based telescopes to detect and characterize extrasolar planets and their host stars, with an emphasis on terrestrial exoplanets orbiting low-mass stars (aka M dwarfs, aka red dwarfs). I am particularly interested in high-throughput, fiber-feb spectroscopy and the integration of lock-in amplification techniques and zero-read-noise detectors into optical astronomy.
Website: http://www.astro.caltech.edu/~philm

Jon Swift

Jon Swift

I find all facets of astronomy fascinating and have had the pleasure of participating in several areas of research: from molecular clouds, to star formation, to circumstellar disk evolution, and now planet formation and evolution. As part of Professor Johnson's ExoLab group I am participating in a wide array of research topics as well as serving as manager for Project Minerva—an observatory to be placed on Palomar Mountain designed to find the nearest and lowest mass exoplanets using relatively inexpensive, commercial components.
Website: http://www.astro.caltech.edu/~jswift/

Jean-Michel Desert

Jean-Michel Desert

Jean-Michel Desert is a Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow at Caltech. He is interested in exoplanet detection and characterization as well as the study of their formation and evolution. His main focus is to study the architecture of planetary systems around nearby stars through the observation of their atmospheres.
Website: http://www.astro.caltech.edu/~desert

Leslie Rogers

Leslie Rogers

I am a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow at Caltech. I am particularly interested in the interior structure, formation and evolution of super-Earth and sub-Neptune exoplanets. I have also dabbled in planet microlensing, interacting binary stars, and meteors.
Website: http://www.astro.caltech.edu/~larogers/


Graduate Students

Tim Morton

Tim Morton

I’m particularly interested in understanding the diversity of exoplanetary systems, and how to use all available observational data to properly inform our understanding of how planetary systems form and evolve.
Website: http://www.astro.caltech.edu/~tdm/
Funding provided by: NASA Origins

Michael Bottom

Michael Bottom

I am a 3rd-year graduate student in the Astrophysics department. I am interested in experimental astrophysics, particularly applied to exoplanet detection and characterization.

Sebastian Pineda

Sebastian Pineda

I work with Professor John Johnson at the intersection of stellar astrophysics and exoplanet science as applied to low-mass stars. I am interested in determining the various properties of low-mass stars as the initial step in characterizing planetary systems. I want to combine observation and theory to advance our understanding of the stars and planetary systems.
Funding provided by: NSF GRFP

Kristina Hogstrom

Kristina Hogstrom

My research interests include the identification and exploration of potentially habitable regions beyond Earth, both within and outside the solar system. I am particularly interested in the study of exoplanet candidates in the habitable zones of unconventional star systems (e.g. binaries), as well as the exploration of solar system moons that potentially hold liquid water. For my Ph.D. thesis, I will be working under Professor John Johnson on the MINERVA observatory project, using my unique position as an engineer interested in astronomical applications to design remote control and automation systems for the telescope, dome, and instrumentation.

Melodie Kao

Melodie Kao

I am a 2nd-year Ph.D. student at Caltech, collaborating with John Johnson and Heather Knutson to study planet migration mechanisms. Prior to Caltech, I also studied how the intergalactic medium evolves, galaxy formation, and galaxy cluster properties.

Ben Montet

Ben Montet

At present, I am studying the frequency and distribution of Jovian planets in wide orbits around M-dwarfs using radial velocity data and a variety of statistical techniques. More broadly, I tend to be interested in problems at the intersection of astronomy and statistics, where an incomplete data set requires a careful statistical analysis to produce significant results.
Funding provided by: NSF GRFP

Marta Bryan

Marta Bryan

I am a first year graduate student in the Astrophysics Department. My research interests center on the detection and characterization of exoplanets, in particular exploring migration mechanisms that form multi-planet systems so starkly different from our own Solar System. Currently, I am working with John Johnson on the “retired” A star Doppler survey to better understand how high stellar mass affects properties of exoplanet systems such as their orbital architecture and multiplicity. Probing these high stellar mass systems could yield new insights into the formation and evolution of this little known population of exoplanets.

Becky Jensen-Clem

Becky Jensen-Clem

I'm a first year graduate student working with John Johnson and post-doc Phil Muirhead on instrumentation for exoplanet detection. I am currently working on optical design for ultra-precise measurements of stellar radial velocities.



Undergraduate Students

Juliette Becker

Juliette Becker

I am an undergraduate astrophysics major. I enjoy orbital dynamics, observational astrophysics and exoplanets—I can't narrow my interests down from these broad categories because I am constantly learning about new fascinating aspects of the field!

Monica He

Monica He

I am a sophomore astrophysics major in love with stars! This summer will be spent at Palomar Observatory, conducting the site testing for MINERVA and exploring the workings of telescopes.



Affiliated Students

Trevor David

Trevor David

I am currently working with Lynne Hillenbrand and post-docs Sasha Hinkley and Justin Crepp on high contrast imaging of sub-stellar mass companions using the Project 1640 instrument at Palomar Observatory. In a related project, I am aiming to improve methods of stellar age estimation for early spectral types.
Funding provided by: NSF GRFP

Alex Lockwood

Alex Lockwood

Alex is a near-IR observer studying the formation and evolution of exoplanets. She is currently studying ro-vibrational molecular excitation in protoplanetary disks around T-Tauri stars. She is also involved in a new program to directly detect radial velocity motions of planets using the cross correlation of advanced atmospheric and stellar model with high S/N spectra.

Coco Zhang

Coco Zhang

I am a 3rd year graduate student in astronomy department. I’m interested in the birthplace of extrasolar planets, so called protoplanetary disks. I use multi-wavelength spectra from near-IR to sub-mm to investigate the distribution of various molecules in protoplanetary disks. These distributions are precious information about physical and chemical condition of protoplanetary disks and help us eventually understand the formation and evolution processes of extrasolar planets.