MIT Kavli Institute Directory

Duane Lee

MLK Postdoctoral Fellow (Physics) Postdoctoral Scholar

Duane M. Lee, an astronomer, and galactic genealogist, holds a joint Postdoctoral Fellowship in Physics at Fisk University & Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. His research interests are: Galactic archeology and near­-field cosmology with a focus on the origin of stellar populations in the Milky Way, dwarf galaxies and the assembly of the Galactic halo. Lee uses techniques like “statistical chemical tagging” of halo stars and tracing of multiple stellar generations in galactic chemical evolution modeling to uncover and help constrain the nature of nucleosynthetic yields and sites for chemical elements such as neutron-capture elements.

Lee's lifelong interest in science was inspired by his childhood in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he was surrounded by views of the Berkshire Mountains and of dark, clear skies. "I could gaze upon the heavens and wonder about the complexities of the Universe," he says. "From an early age, I developed a love of astronomy aided by nights peering through my neighbor's telescope, and, later on, through my own (a gift from my father)."

Lee holds a B.A. in Astrophysics (2001) from Williams College; an M.A. in Astronomy (2006) from Wesleyan University; and a Ph.D. in Astronomy (Officially awarded in 2014) from Columbia University, with a dissertation entitled "Understanding the Nature of Chemical Abundance Ratio Distributions in Nearby Stellar Systems". He was the only black Ph.D. candidate to graduate from any school with a Ph.D. in astronomy in 2013, and only the second ever to do so at Columbia University (Neil deGrasse Tyson was the first).

Since 2016, his work as a Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Postdoctoral Fellow has involved mentoring astronomy MA students at Fisk University (an HBCU) with the aim of giving them the extra support and guidance they need to excel in classes and gain admission in a Ph.D. program at Vanderbilt or elsewhere in the country. Prior to his position in Nashville, Lee held a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory (SHAO) in China from 2013-2015. His work there focused on statistical analysis and models of the Galactic halo chemical abundance ratio distributions (CARDs) and galactic chemical evolution of dwarf galaxies. He has been a member of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) since 2006.
As an MLK Visiting Scholar at MIT, Dr. Lee will be hosted by Professor Anna Frebel in the Department of Physics. In addition to conducting research, participating in diversity and inclusion initiatives and in community discussion thereof, Dr. Lee has also created a new outreach program at MIT (with participating graduate students) called sidewalk astrogazers to bring optical astronomy to a diverse group of people in the Boston/Cambridge area.


Research interests: 

Galactic Astrophysics
Near-field Cosmology
Galactic Chemical Evolution
High Performance Computing
Pencil & Paper