Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Women of Arecibo: Dr. Nipuni Palliyaguru

Written by Nipuni Palliyaguru

I am a radio astronomer and postdoctoral researcher at Texas Tech University and a former postdoctoral researcher
at the Arecibo Observatory. This is a personal account of my experiences. The views expressed in this article are my 
own and do not reflect those of an organization.

The first time I learned to use a radio telescope was with Arecibo. It was in January 2011, when one 
of my graduate school supervisors, Dr. Dan Stinebring took me and three undergraduate students to
Puerto Rico to observe the scintillation of apulsar.  Throughout the night, I watched the pulses of
light from the pulsar appear in real-time on an oscilloscope. Since that first night and throughout my 
graduate school career, I visited Arecibo many times for various observation trips and scientific 
meetings. From summer school for students and frequent visits from scientists from across the globe, 
the observatory maintained a rich and vibrant academic culture. 

I always wanted to work at an observatory, so, I was 
thrilled when I was offered position as a postdoctoral 
scientist at Arecibo in the fall of 2017. Secretly, I really 
wanted  to be like Ellie Harroway in the movie “Contact” 
(who’s real-life protagonist, Jill Tarter, I later had the 
privilege of meeting at Arecibo). Living and working in a 
predominantly Spanish speaking community was a new 
experience after years of working in the mainland US. I 
experienced a way of doing  science in a way that was 
intertwined with culture. There was an overall familial 
atmosphere within the observatory. Remarkably, over
seventy percent of the scientific staff was female, and a 
large majority were women of color, just like me. 
Outside, Arecibo had instilled a sense of pride in the 
people of Puerto Rico. 
However, it didn’t take too long for me to realize that things had drastically changed from the thriving
environment I had witnessed during graduate school trips. Hurricane Maria had just hit, leaving the
island with no power and water. The observatory was also affected by some damages to the dish, 
reducing its efficiency significantly. The future of Arecibo was uncertain. The staff was tired of 
dealing with the disheartening recommendations of divesting the telescope and anxiously awaited the 
impending management change. Amidst this chaos, following the hurricane, the Arecibo staff worked 
tirelessly to get the telescope up and running. 

Leading from the middle

In the late spring of 2018, Arecibo underwent a drastic change in management that particularly 
affected the  junior scientists at the observatory. Many of the senior staff left, crippling daily 
operations and leaving the postdocs to take on many extra observatory-level responsibilities. For 
a few months, Arecibo  was defunct academically. There were no workshops, no summer schools, 
and interaction with the rest of the world was minimal. We rarely had scientists visit for observations 
or colloquia. It was hard to perform daily duties like analyzing data and writing papers because of the 
uncertainty looming over us. 

In February 2019, I, along with several other postdocs, organized an “Arecibo Futures” meeting 
to bring the management, scientists, engineers, and the local community together to talk about 
a science blueprint for the observatory spanning the next decade. The Astronomy and Astrophysics
Decadal Survey, which funding agencies use to identify transformative science and set funding 
priorities for theupcoming decade, was also happening at this time. For the survey, we submitted 
several white papers highlighting the importance of Arecibo and the role of ground-based facilities 
in terms of training the next generation of astronomers, with the hope of increasing the funding 
profile of the observatory and attracting new funders.

We also identified the need to attract new users for 
the observatory and restarted the joint Arecibo-Green 
Bank single dish summer schools for students. About 
15 undergraduate students attended the school to learn 
about how to observe with Arecibo. Throughout this 
time there were moments of not being taken seriously 
and undermining efforts which women of color, I am
sure, are quite accustomed to. However, I was fortunate
to get the support of my Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. Maura
McLaughlin, and other well-wishers for my research 
and outreach activities and other ventures.

Students of Puerto Rico
During this time, I was thinking of ways to involve undergraduate students on the island in active 
research at the observatory since I was already working closely with the University of Puerto Rico 
(UPR) Mayaguez campus on various projects. Undergraduate students from institutions on the 
island often visited the observatory for colloquia and special seminars and there was a lot of 
interestto get actively involved, but there wasn’t a direct throughline to getting involved in 
research at Arecibo. 
In May 2019, the Arecibo receiver engineer Felix
Fernandez and I visited the UPR Mayaguez campus to
talk to students about potential research projects. 
Having laid the groundwork for potential undergraduate 
research, I worked closely with student groups to 
organize a data reduction and science communication 
workshop at UPR. At the workshop, students learned 
to process Arecibo pulsar data. The goal of the science
communications workshop was to build an island-wide
network of trained ambassadors educating various 
audiences about astrophysical concepts.
It was heartening to see the efforts by students to make
these workshops a success and the plans they made for
 future involvement. 
Final thoughts 

At the end of summer in 2019, I left Puerto Rico for a position in the mainland U.S. because I 
wanted to focus more on my research. However, for Arecibo, the funding challenges remained. 
It was devastating to watch the collapse almost two years later. Like many others in the 
astronomy community, I mourned the loss with extreme sadness. Nonetheless, something that 
continued to amaze me is the commitment and resilience of the staff throughout those 
challenging times.
As for me personally, I carry the burden of being a woman of color in academia. Arecibo was 
one of the first places that challenged me to step out of my academic research comfort zone 
and get a taste of what doing research in a resource-poor environment is like. In other words, 
I owe my recent growth as a professional to Arecibo.  Even though there were many challenges, 
I am glad that at Arecibo, I found a group of supportive colleagues and the opportunity to grow
as a scientist and a community advocate.

I strongly believe that scientific research should be accessible to all, especially to those who 
have been traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. Arecibo was a symbol of pride for 
Puerto Ricans and was a source of inspiration for students. With proper resources and a vision, 
it could have pioneered untapped scientific talent in Puerto Rico. Considering Arecibo’s role in 
education and outreach, providing opportunities for minority scientists, and cultural exposures 
for the next generation of scientists in the mainland U.S and Puerto Rico, the loss of the 
telescope is unquantifiable. Therefore, it is crucial that rebuilding plans are successful. I hope 
that Arecibo will soon be on its feet again to continue its invaluable service to both astronomers 
and the citizens of Puerto Rico.


Dr. Nipuni Palliyaguru is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy 
at Texas Tech University. Before joining Texas Tech, she worked as a postdoctoral researcher at 
the Arecibo Observatory and Texas Tech University.  She received her Ph.D. from West Virginia 
University where she was supervised by Prof. Maura McLaughlin. Dr. Palliyaguru’s research 
focuses on transient events in the radio sky such as supernovae, pulsars, and Fast Radio Bursts. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

#BlackInAstroWeek2021: Day One, June 20

#BlackInAstroWeek2021: Day One, June 20

#BlackInAstroGrandSlam, June 20, 2021 

KeShawn Ivory, an incoming PhD student at Vanderbilt University studying dark matter haloes, quickly cleared his throat and sang, in a honeyed voice, a beautiful a capella rendition of SZA's "Good Days". When the song finished, everyone erupted into cheers. "Okayyy, KeShawn's got bars!" someone praised. Even on Zoom the day after Juneteenth, the Black In Astro community was in high spirits. What followed was a day of joy, laughter, and above all, a celebration of the diversity of experiences within the Black diaspora.

Next, JoAnn C. Roberts, also known by her stage name "Paradigm," performed a stirring selection of poems from her new book, Continuum: A Collection of Poetry. Her works ran the gamut from revolutionary with detailed descriptions of complex physics concepts to healing and uplifting. The audience fell along with Roberts into a sort of rhythmic trance; when she spoke, one couldn't help but listen to the power and the lyrical cadence of her words. She'll be performing more of her incredible work on Thursday, June 24th for #BlackWholeDay during #BlackInAstroWeek

The day ended with a look into LGPHY ARCADE, a mobile app developed by India Jackson, an astrophysics PhD candidate at Georgia State University and mother to a wonderful, teenaged daughter. While working on her dissertation, she came up with the idea of developing a simulation to predict the effects of energetic particles and cosmic rays on future astronauts heading to Mars. To fund her research, Jackson learned 10 different coding languages, wrote over one hundred thousand lines of code, and founded Let's Get Physical, LLC, a software publishing company focused on creating content for the Black nerd (Blerd) community. LGPHY ARCADE, Jackson's flagship app, features games that incorporate her scientific research, love of Blerd culture, and retro video games while also supporting local Atlanta businesses. Learn more about LGPHY ARCADE at Jackson's GoFundMe page and you can download the app for both Apple and Android devices. 

Stay tuned for our ongoing coverage of #BlackInAstroWeek and head over to https://www.blackinastro.com/flyer for more details about all of the amazing events for the next week!

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Crosspost: Observing Juneteenth and Black in Astro Week


This coming week provides an opportunity to celebrate and amplify the Black experience in astronomy- and space-related fields. [BLM; ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)]

#BlackInAstro Series on Astrobites

This series, a collaboration between Astrobites and the Black In Astro community, is ongoing; you can check the the #BlackinAstro tag on the astrobites website for new posts.

Be sure to check out two of our favorite posts by our very own blogger, Katrina Miller!

  1. #BlackInAstro Unsung Heroes: Crystal Tinch by guest author Katrina Miller (16 Apr 2021)
  2. #BlackInAstro Experiences: Katrina Miller by Mia de los Reyes (30 Oct 2021)

Juneteenth #BlackInPhysics Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon

APS/Black in Physics banner that reads "Juneteenth Freedom Day Edit-a-thon Sunday June 20" and has images of the Wikipedia, APS, and Black in Physics logos.Celebrate Juneteenth Freedom Day with the American Physical Society and @BlackinPhysics by attending a Wikipedia edit-a-thon on Sunday, June 20, 12:00–3:00 p.m. ET, where we’ll be creating & editing Wikipedia pages about Black physicists. Anyone is welcome to attend. Sign up today! https://go.aps.org/2Re7iEu

#BlackInAstro Week

June 20–26 is Black in Astro Week 2021! Join the Black in Astro community in celebrating and amplifying Black experiences in astronomy- and space-related fields in a week of events, panels, and more at BlackInAstro.com and on Twitter. The schedule and themes for each day of the week are listed below; you can sign up for events and find out more at BlackInAstro.com.

To see more details on Black In Astro Week, check out AAS NOVA's post: https://aasnova.org/2021/06/18/observing-juneteenth-and-black-in-astro-week/ 

Friday, June 18, 2021

AASWomen Newsletter for June 18, 2021

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of June 18, 2021
eds: Heather Flewelling, Nicolle Zellner, Maria Patterson, Jeremy Bailey, and Alessandra Aloisi

[We hope you all are taking care of yourselves and each other. --eds.]

This week's issues:

VanguardSTEM + SeRCH Foundation
host Hot Science Summer (Item #4)
1. Crosspost: Retroactive Name Changes in Astronomical Publications
2. Women of Arecibo: Dr. Thankful Cromartie
3. Ethics and Authorship in the AAS Journals 
4. VanguardSTEM + SeRCH Foundation hosting Hot Science Summer to FUND BIPOC science projects
5. Zonta International awards promising women aerospace researchers with 2021 Amelia Earhart Fellowship
6. Google Doodle celebrates 99th birthday of Italian astrophysicist Margherita Hack
7. Katherine Johnson’s memoir charts her bold trajectory to NASA and beyond
8. A push for a shift in the value system that defines "impact" and "success"
9. Job Opportunities
10. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
11. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
12. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Crosspost: Retroactive Name Changes in Astronomical Publications

 By Macy Huston via astrobites

If you’re active on astronomy Twitter, you’ve probably seen a lot of discussion lately about academic journals’ policies about retroactively changing names on publications. The labor and roadblocks in the process can add a great deal of difficulty to the academic lives of transgender and nonbinary* researchers. Many transgender people change their name from that assigned at birth to one that better fits their gender, but if they do so after having any work published they may face a difficult situation. In some journals, one can retroactively have publications corrected to show their true/chosen name. For other journals, people are left with the choice between either revealing their deadname and outing themselves, or no longer claiming certain past work on their CVs. Additionally, some cisgender astronomers may change their names for reasons such as marriage or religion. 

There are two parts to resolving the disconnection between publications with different names. First, it can be difficult to find all of a person’s past work by searching their current name, if certain publications still use their old name. But, even with this problem resolved, the problem of outing trans people remains when their old name is visible. So the second part of the solution is to have the instances of their previous name changed on old papers. 

Some recent discussions were sparked by a series of tweets from Dr. Elspeth Lee. Her experiences caught the attention of many friends and allies, who have since been pushing for change (more on that later).

Read the rest of the article on astrobites website at


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Women of Arecibo: Dr. Thankful Cromartie

Written by Thankful Cromartie, PhD

Dr. Cromartie on the Arecibo platform

Thankful Cromartie received her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia in May 2020, and is currently a NASA Einstein Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University. Born and raised in North Carolina, she received her B.S. in Physics in 2014 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Thankful is hopelessly addicted to studying millisecond pulsars: finding them, timing them, and using them to probe fundamental physics.

Preface: I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to share this personal reflection about my time at Arecibo; however, I want to emphasize that it is just that — personal. I am not among those most profoundly affected by the loss of Arecibo: the observatory’s staff, scientists who have worked with the telescope for decades, Puerto Rican students, and countless others. I’d also like to note that any opinions expressed here may not be shared by my employer or my scientific collaboration (though I hope some are!).

In Spring 2013, I was a third-year undergraduate at an impasse. A couple years prior, I had made the unusual decision to turn my back on Journalism in favor of pursuing a B.S. in Physics (despite my interest in science during high school starting and ending with Contact and Cosmos). Thanks to my wonderful undergraduate advisors (and their yearly program at Green Bank that biased me towards radio-frequency observing), I’d grown extremely fond of astronomy research; however, my lackluster course grades and test scores left me doubting whether I could actually become an astrophysicist. My decision to apply for the NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at the Arecibo Observatory — and the unimaginably good luck I had in being offered the opportunity — changed the course of my career permanently.

Friday, June 11, 2021

AASWomen Newsletter for June 11, 2021

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
From Item 4 (Credit: ESA/Getty Images).
AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of June 11, 2021
eds: Heather Flewelling, Nicolle Zellner, Maria Patterson, Alessandra Aloisi, and Jeremy Bailin

[We hope you all are taking care of yourselves and each other. Be well! --eds.]

This week's issues:

1. CSWA Statement on Journal Name Change Policies

2. Meet the Women Keynote Speakers of the AAS 238

3. Remembering Rathnasree Nandivada, Who Brought the Stars To All of Us

4. Wanted: British women from all backgrounds who want to go to space

5. Why does biophysics attract a disproportionate number of women?

6. Locked out of the ivory tower: How universities keep women from rising to the top

7. The US must broaden onramps to the STEM workforce

8. The European Parliament supports the promotion of women in science and technology jobs

9. Researchers’ career insecurity needs attention and reform now, says international coalition

10. Review: Woman in Motion shows how Nichelle Nichols transformed NASA

11. 2021 Invitation for AAVSO Board of Directors Nominees

12. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter

13. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter

14. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

An online version of this newsletter will be available at http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/ at 3:00 PM ET every Friday.