About

I am a third-year PhD candidate working in adaptive optics and high contrast imaging, currently based in WM Keck Observatory/IfA, Hilo. I am from Dubai, United Arab Emirates (my parents hail from southern India), where I lived for 18 years before moving to Los Angeles for my undergraduate degree. So yeah, I have come a long way to where I am today– 13,718 km more or less.

My first-year project was with Dr. Jonathan Williams on high contrast multi-wavelength imaging of a debris disk, using data from the Subaru Coronographic Extreme Adaptive Optics (SCEx-AO) instrument, to understand disk structure and features. My second-year project was with Dr. Michael Bottom on developing a focal-plane wavefront algorithm for Keck to suppress speckle noise in high-contrast imaging of exoplanets using the near-infrared camera (NIRC2). My thesis involves the development of an optical testbed to test a new deformable mirror for Keck as a part of the High Order Keck Adaptive Optics Upgrade, and a detailed imaging survey of protoplanetary disks the Ophiuchus molecular cloud. Check the “Research” tab for more information.

I was led to my current research through a very indirect path paved by a combination of my classes and various undergraduate research projects that came under an umbrella of fossils of the Solar System. Having mapped meteorite samples and studied their mineral composition (with Prof. Kevin McKeegan, UCLA), constructed and analyzed models of condensation on planetary embryos (with Prof. David Stevenson, Caltech), and reduced cometary images to understand their morphology and study their activity (with Prof. David Jewitt), I indeed developed a greater appreciation of our neighborhood that I wanted to further investigate planetary systems and how they come to be. My first project on a debris disk sealed this interest and pushed it more along the lines of direct imaging, which also inspired my field of focus for instrumentation.

When I am not science-ing, I immerse myself into mysteries, historical- and science-fiction literature and cinemedia , writing (a mix of blogging on Medium and my social media), art and photography, music (which currently involves basic ukelele), puzzles (crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, and the like), and some physical activity–from a brisk walk to a long hike, table tennis, and scuba diving.. all of which keep me hale and hearty, besides chocolate and coffee! I am also involved in a lot of public outreach and science communication within and beyond Hawai’i, which you can read about under the “Activities” tab.

Research

Ph.D. Topic

Topic: Developments in Direct Imaging: Implementing Deformable Mirror Upgrade and Characterizing Protoplanetary Disks
Committee: Michael Bottom, Jonathan Williams(Chair), Michael Liu, Colby Haggerty, Paul Lucey

High-contrast imaging has enabled observations of faint objects in the vicinity of a bright source, such as exoplanets and circumstellar disks, through a confluence of adaptive optics in ground-based telescopes, coronagraphy, and differential imaging. Improvements in adaptive optics have enhanced direct imaging and spectroscopic measurements of exoplanets and circumstellar disks over the years. This thesis consists of two projects centered around adaptive optics instruments on two Maunakea telescopes. The first project involves implementing the High Order Advanced Keck Adaptive Optics upgrade by designing and building an optical testbed to test and install a higher order deformable mirror. This upgrade will increase the number of detectable planets by enabling observations of colder and older exoplanets, and enhance the imaging of protoplanets embedded in their circumstellar disks during their early stages. The second project utilizes the Subaru Coronagraphic Extreme Adaptive Optics suite to conduct a survey of protoplanetary disks in the Ophiuchus cloud. These disks have limited prior near-infrared imaging due to moderate extinction, but can now be observed with the new NIR pyramid wavefront sensor, that can obtain highly resolved images of disks as faint as 10-13 mags. The scattered light images will complement the highly resolved ALMA data, as multi-wavelength observations are necessary to better constrain the vertical 3D structure of the disks, morphological features from different-sized grains, and the presence of planetary mass companions.

Activities

  • 699-1: SCEXAO/CHARIS Multi-Wavelength High Contrast Imaging of a Debris Disk (Advisor: Jonathan Williams)
  • 699-2: Focal Plane Speckle Suppression at Keck (Advisor: Michael Bottom)

Publications

  • SCExAO/CHARIS Multi-Wavelength, High-Contrast Imaging of the BD+45∘598 Debris Disk

Affiliations

  • Visiting Student, W.M. Keck Observatory

Teaching

Classes taught as a TA: ASTR 110- Survey of Astronomy (Fall 2021, Spring 2022): Introductory astronomy course for freshman and general education on what astronomy means, basic laws of physics to understand how the universe works, and closer looks at the major components that make up “space” as we know it. Workshops/Seminars: Intro 2 Astro: An introductory 8-week long cost-free online course for aspiring students, researchers, and enthusiasts to teach the basics and provide rudimentary skills for research and get started on a career in this field.

Activities

I am keen on communicating my science– what I do and what I have learned. I have been involved in various outreach projects with schools and the general community, and bringing astronomy to folks of all ages and backgrounds.

Classroom/School Talks:

Skype-a-scientist: A global program to connect the public to scientists, which matches scientists to different groups (mainly classrooms and youth groups) based on requirements and available expertise
Journey Through the Universe: Classroom talks geared towards promoting science education at Hawai’i Island school districts.

Invited talks in schools:

Exploring life and habitability on other bodies– Year 8, Dubai British School
Career Talk– Year 13, Dubai British School
Career Opportunities, Development & Enrichment, Indian High School, Dubai

Outreach in the Community:

Public events in Honolulu– stargazing and astronomy demonstrations
IfA Open House
Astro Day, Hilo and Kona
Girl Scout STEM Fest
UCLA Explore Your Universe
Stargazing night at Marine Corps Base Hawaii

Outreach with Schools:

Noelani School: Arts and Crafts Fair (school wide event)
Pearl Harbour Elementary School: Space Night (school wide event)
Honouliuli Middle School: Astronomy Night (school wide event)
Voyager Public Charter School (Classroom activity)

Others:

Maunakea Scholars (Guiding high school students with proposals for telescope
time and mentoring some of their subsequent projects)
Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair (Judge)
Hawaii State Science Olympiad (Event Supervisor)

Awards

Grants

  • AAS International Travel Grant (2022)
  • Travel Grant from Graduate Student Organisation, UH Manoa (2022)

Honors

  • NASA ExoExplorer 2024

Advisees

Students

Current
  • Leesa Takara, Mililani High School-- "Quest for Extraterrestrial Habitability: Analyzing Ammonia on Ganymede" (awarded Saul Price/Aina Haina Community Association Meteorology Award at the Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair)
Previous
  • Jaden Joy Rosabia, Kealakehe High School-- "Designing a Spectrograph to Detect Biosignatures in Exoplanet Atmospheres" (Mauna Kea Scholars)

Maria Vincent

BS Geophysics (highest honors)
BS Astrophysics (highest honors)
(magna cum laude)
University of California, Los Angeles, 2020
MS Astronomy
University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2023
IfA Hawaii island, WM Keck Observatory