Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Meet Central American-Caribbean Astronomy Bridge Program Fellows - Part 3

The Central American - Caribbean bridge in astrophysics is a program created to mentor and train the next generation of students in astrophysics from that region. This was created because there is an enormous lack of resources and research opportunities for students interested in astrophysics. We hold monthly webinars and invite a speaker every month to talk about their personal life, academic obstacles, and research. The goal is for the students to feel represented, motivated, and capable, especially women in our group. More recently, we began a remote REU-like internship where students are able to complete a mini-project within a four-month period. Last Fall 2019, we had four students from Costa Rica and Honduras who worked with professors from Mexico, Chile, and Brazil. This Spring 2020, we are working with three students from Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador. This opportunity brings research opportunities to these students and connects them to potential advisors and PhD programs.

In this series, we will highlight selected fellows. If you'd like to learn more about the program and ways you can get involved please visit https://cencabridgeastro.weebly.com/

My name’s Valeria Hurtado, and I was raised in Managua, Nicaragua until the age of 17. When I was young I wanted to be a vet-ballerina-scientist-actress-athlete. So far, I have become one of those things. When I was in Nicaragua, I knew I was interested in the natural world and in applying the scientific method, but back then I didn’t know that those things were physics. However, becoming a scientist in a country in constant socio-political and economic unrest would have been a luxury too unrealistic for me to afford. Besides, the scientists I saw in popular science channels were definitely not Nicaraguan or women - so I never really considered astronomy as a career. Fortunately, I was a stubborn, rebellious, and unaware 16-year-old who decided to apply to competitive schools to study physics.

In 2014, I enrolled at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) where I did my physics bachelors. There I got involved in the UCSC chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) and eventually became the president of it. As a leader of SPS, I held weekly meetings discussing mental health issues, the climate in physics, research opportunities and talks, and outreach activities. Under SPS and our local Women in Physics and Astronomy group, we also held a mentoring program between undergraduate and graduate students in both physics and astronomy. Besides our activities, I also raised over $4,000 for SPS for outreach activities, to create funds for students to attend conferences, and for GRE testing. After my SPS experience, I also co-created the physics department’s diversity and inclusion committee and contributed to several changes in the department.

Through SPS I met Dr. Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz who eventually became my future advisor. He gave me the opportunity to fall in love with computational astrophysics, Gamma-Ray Bursts, and magnetohydrodynamics through my thesis project (soon to be published). After graduating in June 2019, I started a Post-Bac position at Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) with Dr. Nicole Lloyd-Ronning as my advisor. At LANL I’m working on GRMHD simulations exploring how the beaming angle in GRBs depends on black hole spin and magnetic field magnitude and configuration. In the Fall, I will go on to complete my masters at the Fisk-Vanderbilt bridge program and then continue my education in a PhD program in astrophysics. I am also working towards increasing the visibility of the sciences in my country as well as helping those who are interested in pursuing science.

My dream is to continue doing computational astrophysics research and to one day build an academy of sciences either in the Central part of the continent or in the Caribbean serving marginalized communities and using anti-colonial principles. I want our people (Brown, Native, Black, LGBTQIA, and disabled folks) to teach, and to have the opportunity to follow their dreams and their curiosity, while providing a support system and the tools they may need for all their endeavors.

My instagram/twitter: marx_mallow

My name is Raquel Nohemy Mejía. I am from Santa Barbara, Honduras. I am 25 years old and I studied physics and chemical engineering at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH).

Currently, I had the opportunity to work on several investigations. I worked in the research line of high energy astrophysics as part of my Bachelor's dissertation in the study of binary x-ray stars and the research line of stellar evolution as part of remote internship program Central American-Caribbean bridge in the study of stellar granulation.

I am very happy to say that I'm one of those who direct the chapter of the Society of Women in the Space Exploration (SWISE) in Honduras. It is very important to me to belong to this group because it allows us to motivate more women and girls to study science in my country through scientific outreach events and workshops in schools.

My future plans are to earn a master's degree abroad in the extragalactic astrophysics research line. My dream since I was a child has been to travel to Germany and now that I discovered what I love, my greatest aspiration is to work as a researcher at the Max Planck astronomy institute in Germany. I would like to return to my country and contribute to advancements in science.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Crosspost: A Break-up Letter with Astronomy, From a Young Black Woman

Credit: ESA, NASA

By Lauren Chambers via Medium.com

Dear Astronomy,

It’s not me, it’s you.

I had intentions of leaving you for over 3 years, even before I finished my astronomy undergraduate degree. The original reason I cited for wanting to leave is that I felt I would never be fulfilled by the content of what a career in astronomy would look like. Spending a lifetime studying stars and galaxies while watching my neighbors suffer from structural inequalities — inequalities that I have studied rigorously and am capable of fighting against — felt irresponsible and selfish to me.

Make no mistake, I knew that I could have stayed with you and been successful if I wanted to. For those who need evidence to accept that claim: I graduated magna cum laude from Yale, winning departmental prizes for my research in both astronomy and African American studies, and won the American Astronomical Society’s Chambliss prize for an exceptional undergraduate research poster. I didn’t leave because I felt at all incompetent or insecure about my ability to be an astronomer. Nor was I pushed out — I was exceptionally lucky to have many supportive mentors in the field across multiple institutions, I never had a research experience that was anything short of delightful, and I (generally) enjoyed myself and felt welcomed during the two years that I worked as a software engineer for the James Webb Space Telescope mission at Space Telescope Science Institute.

Despite all this, I realize I have been kidding myself when I tell myself the only reason I left you was the inhumanity of your objects of study and my changing academic interests. It’s an easier pill to swallow for everyone — “it’s not us, it’s me.” But an even stronger force that turned me away was the inability of astronomers to be respectful community members, and to acknowledge the terrestrial effects of our celestial research.

Read the full letter at


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Crosspost: #BlackInAstro from astrobites

Image credit: Astrobites. Credit for the Milky Way picture in the background of the featured image: ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)

Astrobites, a grad-student led website that summarizes astrophysical journal articles for undergraduates, has been posting articles highlighting the experiences of Black astronomers in their series #BlackinAstro. We highlight the articles here with links to read more.

#BlackInAstro: How Can We Support Black Astronomers?

By Astrobites

This week, the U.S. is rising in protest in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery are the most recent in a long history of extrajudicial murders of Black people in the U.S. We at Astrobites stand in solidarity with the protestors, and against the systemic anti-Blackness that continues to enact violence on Black people in this country. We recognize that these same systems pervade academia and our field, and contribute to the inequities present in astronomy.

Why are we discussing these issues on an astronomy website? First, our scientific research is stronger when it comes from a community grounded in respect and diversity. But most importantly, we believe that the people in our community should be prioritized over our science. In order to do so, astronomy must be explicitly anti-racist and actively work to support Black students and researchers.



#BlackInAstro: Black Representation in Astro/Physics and the Impact of Discrimination

By Astrobites

Black students and researchers are drastically underrepresented in physics and astronomy. In this post, we break down some of the statistics about the representation of Black students in academia, and summarize some of the existing research on the experiences of Black students and researchers in STEM.



#BlackInAstro Experiences: KeShawn Ivory

By KeShawn Ivory

Graduate student KeShawn Ivory writes on how being Black has affected his trajectory in astrophysics, what the field would ideally look like for him, what he needs non-Black folks in the field to understand and change, and how all these questions are really one and the same.



#BlackInAstro Experiences: Ashley Walker

By Mia de los Reyes

To start off a full week of #BlackInAstro posts, we interview Ashley Walker—the person who came up with the #BlackInAstro hashtag!



#BlackInAstro: Not a Lack of Science Aspiration, But a Lack of Career Inspiration?

By Luna Zagorac

Today for #BlackInAstro week, we summarize a sociological study on Black students’ science aspirations & how to improve the “thinkability” of science careers.



#BlackInAstro Experiences: Cheyenne Polius

By Cheyenne Polius

Graduate student Cheyenne Polius writes about her experience as a Black woman studying astrophysics in the UK!



#BlackInAstro: Black Women in Astronomy and Physics

Kate Storey-Fisher

Today’s post for #BlackInAstro week looks at the underrepresentation of Black women in astronomy and physics, and summarizes two papers on their lived experiences in the field.



Thursday, June 25, 2020

Nominate our field’s best for the 2021 AAS Prizes and Honors by July 14**

Dr. Beth Brown, NASA astrophysicist (1969-2008). Learn more about the Beth Brown Memorial Award. Image credit: Jay S. Friedlander, NASA

By Aparna Venkatesan (U. of San Francisco), Ed Bertschinger (MIT), Dara Norman (NOIRLab), Sarah Tuttle (U. of Washington, Seattle)

The COVID19 pandemic and the nationwide protests for racial justice have revealed the longstanding injustices and inequities in our society, as well as in academia and the sciences. The pandemic, which shows no signs of slowing down, has already had a documented fallout on academe’s most vulnerable populations, including women, underrepresented minorities and especially women of color, as they try to navigate a radically altered higher education landscape, canceled interviews, and lost professional or research opportunities. Those most at risk are among our most talented, whose voices we most need in our profession in the years to come.

How can we collectively address this? As a first step, consider nominating a minoritized colleague, mentor or mentee, or nominating yourself, for a prize or honor offered in your department, institute, agency, or professional society. Like all privilege, awards and prizes tend to accumulate in certain institutional tiers or scientific lineages. At present, the pandemic and other current crises have amplified the lack of privilege more than ever. We can make a difference by nominating a colleague or mentee who is doing excellent and perhaps under-valued work, who is from - or works with - marginalized communities, or is a load-bearing circuit in their institution and our profession through the many roles and identities in their leadership and service, e.g. an indigenous astronomer, or a minoritized astronomer working on accessibility. The honor of a prize or award may be one of the factors that helps our most vulnerable colleagues navigate careers roiled by current circumstances. If you recognize yourself in the previous sentences, once again - please consider a self-nomination!

In the next week alone, we can make a difference by nominating a deserving colleague by July 14** for the 2021 AAS Prizes and Awards, as well as for AAS Fellows. Please take the time to prepare a thoughtful nomination package worthy of your nominee, that follows the stated rubrics/guidelines. Nominations can be done by AAS members online through a new online nomination system. Details and guidelines are at:


The AAS “specifically encourages nominations of, and self-nominations from, astronomers who are members of marginalized groups, including people of color, people with disabilities, and sexual and gender minorities.”

**June 29, 2020 The title and text of this post has been edited to reflect the sumbission deadline extension. The new deadline is now July 14, 2020 at 11:59PM EDT.