Affiliated Postdocs

Melinda Soares-Furtado
Melinda is a NASA Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is investigating anomalous stellar signatures that arise from the accretion/engulfment of substellar companions. Such signatures include chemical enrichment and rotational enhancement. One of her major objectives is to detect a star that has engulfed a planetary companion. Such a star could provide valuable constraints on the bulk composition of the companion, which would have far-reaching implications in the theory of planet formation. Melinda also applies image subtraction reduction techniques to photometric surveys (Kepler/K2) in an effort to search for periodic variability in open clusters. This includes the search for transiting exoplanets in these systems. When she is not glued to her terminal, you may find her hunting for vintage astronomy textbooks, making time-lapse videos of the birds in her garden, or competing in a Beat Saber battle with her children (she always loses).
Javier Viaña
Javier Viaña is currently a Postdoc Associate at MIT Kavli Institute of Astrophysics and Space Research. He obtained his Ph.D. in Explainable Artificial Intelligence applied to the Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. His doctoral research revolved around the conception of novel transparent algorithms that not only provide accurate predictions but also human-understandable justifications of the results. His current research is focused on the design of deep neural network architectures that automatically classify TESS transiting planet candidates. Previously, Javier developed tailored AI solutions for different aerospace organizations such as Aurora Flight Sciences, Boeing, Satlantis Microsatellites, NASA, ESA, Genexia, and the Northern Kentucky International Airport. He graduated from his Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering at the University of the Basque Country, and Master’s in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. His main research topics and interest include transparency in AI, deep fuzzy networks, genetic fuzzy systems, bio-inspired evolutionary optimization, white dwarf spectral characterization, exoplanet detection, and black holes.
Malena Rice
Malena Rice is a 51 Pegasi b Fellow at the MIT Kavli Institute. Her research probes the formation and evolution of planetary systems, and she works on a range of related topics including hot Jupiter formation, stellar spectroscopy, and the hunt for Planet Nine. Before arriving at MIT, Malena received her B.A. in Physics and B.A. in Astrophysics from UC Berkeley, and her M.S., M.Phil., and Ph.D. (2022) in Astronomy at Yale University. Malena is passionate about STEM education and accessibility, and she has been heavily involved in various public outreach efforts. Outside of science, her eclectic interests include visiting modern and contemporary art galleries, lifting weights, playing the flute, and eating great bread.

Graduate Students

Mariona Badenas-Agusti
I am a third-year Ph.D. candidate in Planetary Sciences at MIT, where I work with Prof. Andrew Vanderburg and Prof. Sara Seager on ancient exoplanetary systems around white dwarfs (i.e. the final evolutionary stage of intermediate-mass stars such as our Sun). In particular, I am developing new machine learning and statistical tools to characterize the properties of rocky extra-solar bodies that accrete onto the atmospheres of white dwarfs. Before joining MIT, I earned a Bachelor's degree in Astrophysics from Yale University and a Master’s degree in Astrophysics, Cosmology, and High Energy Physics from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia. Outside of academia, I am very interested in the aerospace industry and I am a member of the Space Generation Advisory Council and of Women in Aerospace Europe.
Bob Aloisi
I am returning to UW - Madison to earn an Astronomy PhD after initially earning a BS Chemical Engineering degree many years ago. I am working with Professor Vanderburg on Exoplanet research, initially searching for hot Jupiter planets orbiting white dwarf stars. I recently earned a second major in Physics at UW – Milwaukee, where my research projects included: building payloads to launch on NASA sounding rockets; finding timing solutions to constrain the properties of several pulsars; updating the Census of the Local Universe (CLU) galaxy catalog, which is referenced when gravitational waves are observed; and traveling to the University of Sydney, where I searched for radio bright supernovae using the first survey images from a new radio telescope array called the Australian SKA Pathfinder. I enjoy stargazing, campfires, fishing and other outdoor activities.
Lizhou Sha
I am a second-year PhD student in astronomy at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. I use advanced computational techniques to uncover unusual planetary system architectures. I graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018 with an SB in physics. My first job after graduation was with NASA’s TESS space telescope, whose mission is to search most of the sky for nearby transiting exoplanets. Under the guidance of Dr. Chelsea X. Huang, I helped build, maintain, and execute one of the mission’s two planet detection pipelines.
Zoe de Beurs
Zoe is a first-year PhD student studying Planetary Science at MIT as an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. Her research interests include using machine learning for exoplanet detection, planetary atmospheres, and mitigating stellar activity in radial velocity measurements to become sensitive to the signals of earth-twins. When Zoe is not searching for exoplanets, she can be found drinking copious amounts of coffee, watering her plants, or advocating for making science more accessible through outreach and equity and inclusion initiatives.
Sydney Jenkins
Sydney is a first-year NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the MIT Department of Physics. She previously earned a BA in physics and BS in computer science at the University of Chicago. During her time at UChicago, she worked on projects studying ultra-faint dwarf galaxies and developing machine learning tools for the classification of galaxy mergers and variable stars. She is currently using TRES to measure the primordial metallicity of white dwarfs in binary systems. This will place constraints on how planets are perturbed toward their host stars. Outside of astronomy, she enjoys hiking, tending to her indoor garden, and exploring Boston.

Affiliated graduate students

Mary Anne Limbach
Mary Anne Limbach is a PhD candidate in Astronomy at Texas A&M University. Her research entails the development and implementation of new techniques to probe exoplanets and their environment. She has developed novel observational and instrumental techniques for characterizing exoplanets atmospheres, searching for exomoons, and detecting biosignatures. She has also served as the optical engineer and/or instrument scientist on several large facility exoplanet instruments including Subaru/CHARIS, GPI2.0 IFS and McDonald/ETSI. When not looking for exomoons, she enjoys long hikes in the forest, rock climbing and gardening.
Yang Fang
I am a third year master student at UW-Madison, majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering. I am working with Prof. Vanderburg and Prof. Hu on Scattered Earth Light Removal of TESS Images using Machine Learning Technologies. Besides of research, I am also interested in Chinese Calligraphy, water color painting and collecting stones.


Alex Venner
I am a graduate from the United Kingdom who is interested in the discovery and characterisation of exoplanets of all different types, as well as the study of white dwarfs. I met Professor Vanderburg through Planet Hunters during the K2 mission, and I have recently been working with him to detect long-period giant exoplanets using astrometry. I am aiming to go on to do a PhD in exoplanet science.
Ben Capistrant
I'm a recent graduate from UW-Madison with majors in Physics and Astronomy-Physics and a minor in Mathematics. I have been working on a project studying variable dipper stars with Dr. Melinda Soares-Furtado and Professor Vanderburg. I have also been working on a project with Professor Ke Zhang at UW-Madison investigating enhanced mid-plane CO abundance in protoplanetary disks. I am particularly interested in planet formation, exoplanets, and protoplanetary disks, but I really enjoy all areas of astronomy. Since graduating from UW, I am applying to grad school to pursue a PhD in Astronomy. Outside of work, I like playing guitar, piano, and drumming, in addition to traveling and shooting landscape photography.

Undergraduate Students

Sarah Kubiak
Sarah is a senior at UW-Madison majoring in Astronomy - Physics and Life Science Communication. Sarah enjoys all aspects of astronomy but is most interested in exoplanets, planetary sciences, and how we communicate astronomy to the public in a way that is easy to understand. She is currently working with Prof Vanderburg on a project that helps us to understand why close-in Jupiters around white dwarfs form, if they can migrate, and what causes it. Outside of research, she enjoys astronomy outreach, painting, gardening, and playing animal crossing.
Elyse Incha
Elyse is a junior at UW-Madison studying Astronomy-Physics with an astrobiology focus. She is interested in studying many astrobiology topics, but currently is working with Professor Vanderburg on exoplanet detection and analysis. Outside of work, she volunteers with A Moment of Magic, plays guitar, attends surprise concerts, and loves to paint.
Drake Lehmann
Drake is a sophomore at UW – Madison double majoring in Astrophysics and Physics. He is currently working with Dr. Vanderburg on ephemeris matching with Kepler and TESS space telescopes to verify the authenticity of planet candidates. Outside of school, Drake enjoys playing guitar, traveling with friends, and practicing martial arts.
Panupong Phoompuang
I am Pitt, a sophomore at MIT, majoring in physics and minoring in astronomy. I am interested in theoretical and observational astronomy in general, and I have been working with Prof. Vanderburg to test the SETI hypothesis for stars with unusual radioactive elements. Besides doing research, I love to teach astronomy, math, and physics to high school students. I also love to sing songs, especially Thai songs, since I am from Bangkok, Thailand.
Warit Wijitworasart
Warit is a sophomore at MIT, majoring in Physics and minoring in Astronomy. He has been interested in Astronomy and Astrophysics since high school and started researching with Prof. Vanderburg on determining the rarity of stars displaying unusual chemical composition -- heavy, radioactive elements -- in their atmospheres. Outside of academic interests, he enjoys soccer, anime, aquarium, and stargazing.
Sam Christian
Sam Christian is a freshman undergraduate at MIT. Previously, he was a student at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA) High School in Austin Texas. He has done research in areas of cosmology, exoplanets, and geophysics, but enjoys learning about nearly all areas of physical science. He has been studying exoplanets in wide binary systems with Dr. Vanderburg since June of 2020. Outside of the sciences, he plays the cello and piano, and enjoys reading Ursula Le Guin novels.
Mason Fang
Mason is a freshman at MIT planning to double major in Physics and Mathematics with Computer Science. He has been interested in astronomy, mathematics, and physics since he was a child and participated in math and physics olympiads throughout high school. Mason recently began investigating applications of machine learning to exoplanet studies with Dr. Viaña and Prof. Vanderburg. Outside of academics, he enjoys speedcubing, learning about geography and other cultures, watching sports, and listening to music from around the world.

High School Students

Gabrielle Ross:
Gabrielle Ross is a rising High School Senior at The Brearley School. She is an avid programmer and loves all things physics and astronomy related. This summer she is working with Professor Andrew Vanderburg on training a classifier with ground telescopes to determine how many stars, planets, galaxies, etc. are on each pixel of the larger-pixel TESS telescope image sets. Previously, Gabrielle interned at the Naval Research Laboratories in creating an algorithm to sort infrared astronomical data using custom feature extractors. For fun outside of school, Gabrielle creates apps, plays Varsity Lacrosse as the goalie, and goes backpacking.

Former group members

  • Maura Lally (Summer 2019-Spring 2022 originally as a Northwestern University undergraduate and a Cornell graduate student)
  • Ben Havlicek (Fall 2020 as a University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduate)
  • Ben Steck (Fall 2020-Summer 2021 as a University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduate)
  • Anne Dattilo (Fall 2017-Summer 2019 as a University of Texas undergraduate.)
  • Aditya Shah (Fall 2018-Spring 2019 as a University of Texas undergraduate).
  • Gerlinder Difo Cheri (Summer 2018 as a University of the Virgin Islands undergraduate)
  • Rayna Rampalli (Summer 2017 - Spring 2019 as a Wellesley undergraduate and a Columbia bridge student)
  • Clea Schumer (Summer 2017 as a Harvard undergraduate)
  • Andy Mayo (Spring 2014-Summer 2017 as a Harvard undergraduate.)