My name is Erica (she/her) and I am a mixed-race (European, Asian, Mexican) first generation Hispanic graduate student and PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. I am from Southern California and obtained my undergraduate degree at UC Santa Cruz where I worked with Dr. Tesla Jeltema on identifying active galaxies in clusters in the X-ray and optical.

I am an explorer of different types of astronomy- In 2018 I worked with Dr. Jamie Tayar and Dr. Dan Huber on a project to investigate giant stars that do not follow the expected [C/N]-mass trend. Eventually my research interests gravitationally settled to focus on small bodies in the solar system – comets. For my PhD thesis I currently construct and analyze a large sample of comets from the Oort Cloud to answer fundamental questions in planetary science. To do this I am the P.I. of two large observing programs utilizing telescopes CFHT and Gemini North/South.

I have a strong interest in STEM education and outreach. I served as the astronomy lab instructor for 2018-2021 (six semesters) and created curriculum for in-person, hybrid, and fully online courses. I teach utilizing synchronous and asynchronous learning activites and hands-on and remote observing with amateur telescopes. For my efforts I was awarded the GSO Merit based award in Teaching (2021) and Nominated for the Frances Davis Award in Teaching (2021, 2022).

I served as the Graduate Student Representative in my Department 2020-21 and I was instrumental in creating a cover-of-cost application waiver for graduate applicants to make the application to my department more accessible to those from all types of socio-economic backgrounds. Besides astronomy, I enjoy collecting/growing plants, drawing, chihuahuas, post-apocalyptic movies and indie horror games.



Links to talks about my research are listed below:

Research Project 1

Research Project 2

Thesis Proposal


Outreach Video for MKO@home about the Scale Solar System:

Outreach Video for MKO@home about Constellations:

Lunar Phases Activity:

Description of Research for ARCS Awards 2021:



  • 2018 Institute for Astronomy Best Research Project
  • 2019 Institute for Astronomy Best Research Project
  • 2019 SACNAS Best Graduate Research Presentation Award
  • 2021 Soroptimist Founder Region Fellowship
  • 2021 Hannah Liebreich Graduate Student Organization Award in Teaching
  • 2021 George and Mona Elmore ARCS Research Award
  • 2021 ARCS Scholar of the Year
  • 2022 Special Recognition from Governor of Hawaii David Ige
  • 2022 Special Congressional Recognition from Ed Case (1st District of Hawaii)

Erica Bufanda

PhD Candidate, Soroptimist Fellow, JPL intern
B.S. Astrophysics 2015, UC Santa Cruz
M.S. Astronomy 2019, University of Hawaii
  • PhD Thesis: Volatile Vehicles to the Past: Characterizing the Activity of Long Period Comets
IfA Mānoa,