NASA Selects 2016 Carl Sagan Fellows

Press Release From: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Posted: Friday, March 25, 2016

NASA has announced the 2016 class of Sagan Exoplanet Postdoctoral Fellows. The fellowship, named for the late astronomer, was created in 2008 to inspire the next generation of explorers seeking to learn more about planets, and possibly life, around other stars.

The primary goal of the fellowship program is to support outstanding recent postdoctoral scientists in conducting independent research related to the science goals of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program -- namely, to discover and characterize planetary systems and Earth-like planets around nearby stars.

Previous Sagan Fellows have already made significant discoveries and advances. Their recent science results include the Magellan Adaptive Optics first-light observations of the exoplanet beta Pic b, and the first-ever image of a planet that is still forming. Details of those observations are at:

“The 2016 Class of Sagan Fellows covers almost all aspects of exoplanet research: from the theory and observation of forming planets and the study of exoplanet atmospheres, to the architecture of planetary systems and the search for habitable exo-Earths. With their innovative ideas, technical skills and leadership abilities, these young scientists will expand the frontiers of the exciting field of astrophysics,” said Charles Beichman, executive director of the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

The program awards provided postdoctoral scientists with annual stipends of $67,500 for up to three years, plus an annual research budget of up to $16,000.

The six 2016 Sagan Fellows are:

-- Katherine Follette, who will work at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, on “Finding and Characterizing Forming Protoplanets with Next Generation Adaptive Optics Systems.” She will use advanced adaptive optics on the Magellan telescope in Chile to investigate the H-alpha emission from objects surrounding stars to determine if these objects are protoplanets in formation.

-- Jeffrey Fung, who will work at the University of California in Berkeley, California, on “3D Disk-Planet Interaction: Observable Disk Features and Dynamical Planet Migration.” He will use 3-D numerical simulations to look at the dynamics around planets, revealing how young planets grow, migrate and carve their natal disks.

-- Samuel Halverson, who will work at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia on “Enabling Technologies for Extreme Precision Radial Velocity Measurements.” He will develop new photonic technologies to improve the stability and measurement precision of next-generation planet-hunting spectrometers in both optical and near-infrared wavelengths.

-- Kento Masuda, who will work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge on “Toward a comprehensive view of planet formation and evolution: probing the role of orbital migration in explanatory systems from their observed architecture.” He will study the dynamical history of diverse explanatory systems, focusing especially on the role of orbital migration in sculpting observed systems.

-- Benjamin Montet, who will work at the University of Chicago in Illinois on "Exploring the Diversity of Planetary Systems with K2." Benjamin will explore how the planetary systems are different in differing parts of the galaxy using data from the K2 mission.

-- Caroline Morley, who will work at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on “New Tools for Understanding Exoplanet Atmospheres from Spectroscopy.” Caroline will study the role of clouds and hazes in the atmospheres of a variety of objects, from exoplanets smaller than Neptune to brown dwarfs more massive than Jupiter.

NASA has two other astrophysics theme-based fellowship programs: the Einstein Fellowship Program, which supports research into the Physics of the Cosmos, and the Hubble Fellowship Program, which supports research into Cosmic Origins. Maxwell Millar-Blanchaer, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, is among those selected for the Hubble Fellowship Program.

The Sagan Fellowship Program is administered by the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute as part of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program at JPL. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

A full description of the 2016 Sagan Fellows and their projects, and other information about these programs is available at:

More information about the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute is available at:

More information about NASA's Astrophysics Division is at:


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