The MIT Pappalardo Fellowships in Physics can be found at

Current MIT Pappalardo Fellows with an MKI Affiliation

Nicholas Kern, Pappalardo Fellow in Physics: 2020-2023
Nicholas Kern received his B.S. in physics and astrophysics in 2015 from the University of Michigan working on galaxy cluster dynamical mass estimation. In 2020, he completed his PhD in astrophysics at UC Berkeley working with Aaron Parsons on 21 cm cosmology and the tomographic mapping of the Epoch of Reionization.  His work lies at the interface of experiment and theory of high redshift astrophysics and cosmology. Broadly, Nicholas is interested in problems related to precision radio interferometry, data analysis and optimal signal extraction, and cosmological parameter inference. Specifically, his research aims to understand when and how the first stars and galaxies in the universe formed and the way this process was tied to cosmological structure formation. In particular, Nicholas uses low-frequency radio telescopes that map the distribution of primordial hydrogen in the distant universe in order to shed light on these processes. His PhD work focused on the development of data analysis algorithms and pipelines for a new radio experiment, the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA), which aims to make a first measurement of such radio emission from the Epoch of Reionization. Nicholas’ background spans a wide range of sectors within the experiment, including hardware commissioning, data quality management, instrument calibration, data compression, and connections to astrophysical theory. His research goals at MIT are to establish these experiments as novel cosmological probes and to design the next generation of experiments that will provide new tests of the cosmological standard model.

Nicholas is also invested in teaching and student mentoring. During his PhD, he developed an introductory class on computer programming and data analysis for undergraduate students beginning research in astrophysics, which is hosted online and publicly accessible. He is also an instructor and student mentor for HERA’s summer research bootcamp and internship, which pairs students from California state and community colleges with summer projects at premier research institutions.

Steven Villanueva, Pappalardo Fellow in Physics: 2018-2021
Steven Villanueva focuses on the discovery, confirmation, and characterization of planets outside of our solar system. He uses the transit method to look for the dimming of starlight that occurs when a planet passes in front of the star it orbits. By measuring the period, duration, and depth of this 1% or less dimming of starlight, he can measure the size and orbit of the planet around its host star.

Steven makes use of the 20-inch (0.5-m) robotic and automated telescope that he built as part of his graduate thesis to confirm and characterize potential planets discovered by ground-based surveys and for the upcoming TESS mission. He focuses on extending the period range of TESS by looking for planets that orbit their stars on orbits of weeks and months, rather than orbits of days that most surveys are sensitive to.

Steven also maintains a strong commitment to outreach and working with underrepresented groups in STEM fields, especially underrepresented minorities, women, and first-generation college students. He is a longtime member of both the National Society of Hispanic Physicists and the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science.

Future MIT Pappalardo Fellows with an MKI Affiliation

Anna-Christina Eilers, Pappalardo Fellow in Physics: 2022-2024 (currently NASA Hubble Fellow: 2019-2022)
Anna-Christina Eilers studies the formation and growth of supermassive black holes in the center of quasars and massive galaxies. As part of her PhD research, she developed a new method to estimate the lifetime of quasars that sets a timescale on which quasars accrete material to feed and grow their central black hole. She is particularly interested in the most distant known quasars, objects which date from when our universe was only a few hundred million years old. For the study of these very distant objects she uses large optical telescopes located in Chile and Hawaii, as well as various radio telescopes around the world. The goal of Eilers’s research is to understand how the first galaxies and black holes have formed, and how they evolved through cosmic time. She is also interested in developing new data-driven models to extract information from large data sets, and is working on modelling the structure and dynamics of the Milky Way with data from the Gaia space mission.

Eilers also enjoys public outreach and making astronomy more inclusive. She has worked at the Center for Astronomical Outreach and Education in Heidelberg, where she wrote articles for a popular science magazine and helped develop planetarium shows for visitors.

Past MIT Pappalardo Fellows with an MKI Affiliation

Carl Rodriguez, MIT Pappalardo Fellow in Physics 2016-2019
Robert Penna, MIT Pappalardo Fellow in Physics 2013-2016
Meng Su, MIT Pappalardo Fellow in Physics 2012-2015
Laura Lopez, MIT Pappalardo Fellow in Physics 2011-2014