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, 2022,2023).
  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.  


Ph.D. Topic

Topic: Vehicles to the Past: Characterizing the Activity of Long Period Comets
Committee: Karen Meech(Chair)

Links to talks about my research are listed below:
Research Project 1

Research Project 2

Thesis Proposal



ASTR110 – Introduction to Astronomy (Summer 2017)
ASTR 110L – Introduction to Astronomy Lab – Naked Eye, Amateur, and Remote Observing (Fall 2018-Spring 2021)  


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 Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Best Graduate Research Presentation Award
  • 2021 Soroptimist Founder Region Fellowship Award
  • 2021 Hannah Liebreich Graduate Student Organization Award in Teaching
  • 2021 George and Mona Elmore Achievement Reward for College Scientists (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)
  • 2022 240th American Astronomical Society (AAS) Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Award
  • 2023 Institute for Astronomy Excellence in Outreach Award

Erica Bufanda

PhD Candidate, Soroptimist Fellow
B.S. Astrophysics 2015, UC Santa Cruz
M.S. Astronomy 2019, University of Hawaii
IfA Mānoa,