The Torres Postdoctoral Fellowships are supported by a generous donation from Juan Carlos Torres ’79, and are awarded through a competitive process for the study of Astrophysics, with a preference for candidates studying exoplanets.
Maximilian Guenther, Torres Postdoctoral Fellow for Exoplanet Research 2018-2021.
Max obtained his PhD working with Nobel-Laureate Professor Didier Queloz at the University of Cambridge, UK. My research focused on how we can distinguish between real exoplanets and things that look like exoplanets, but are not (false positives). As part of the NGTS team, Max helped install telescopes, developed novel algorithms and hunted for Jupiter- and Neptune-sized exoplanets. Max received his Master’s at the University of Austin at Texas working on something completely different: research in the biophysics lab of Professor George Shubeita where he developed a mathematical model to understand Drosophila models of genetic diseases like Alzheimer’s and Fragile X. As a Juan Carlos Torres Fellow at MIT he continued his quest to find Earth-sized exoplanets around small stars, and the big question of how stellar flares impact their habitability working with leading international missions, such TESS, SPECULOOS and NGTS. As of September 2021, Max is a European Space Agency (ESA) Research Fellow at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC).
Xu (Chelsea) Huang, Torres Postdoctoral Fellow for Exoplanet Research 2017-
Chelsea received her PhD in astronomy and astrophysics from Princeton University in 2015, supervised by Professor Gaspar Bakos. Before coming to MIT as Torres Fellow to work on the detection and characterization of transiting exoplanets, she was the Dunlap/CPS fellow at the University of Toronto in 2016. Chelsea has a broad range of research interests, and has developed many tools to achieve state of art photometry precision, and detect transiting planets from ground (HATNet) and space (Kepler/K2) based transit survey data. She has also developed software tools to characterize the gravity darkening signal and oblateness signal in the Kepler light curves, and was a key contributor to revise the age of Hyades using stellar Isochron taken into account rotational effect. Chelsea is especially interested in the relation between giant planets and small planets. She identified Warm Jupiter as a unique population of giant planets that coexist with super Earth companions. At MIT, Chelsea is a core member of the TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) Science Office team where she is a main contributor for the TESS mission full frame image photometry, planet detection and data validation pipeline.
Jennifer Burt, Torres Postdoctoral Fellow for Exoplanet Research 2016-2019
Jen received her undergraduate degree in Astronomy from Cornell in 2012. She went on to the University of California, Santa Cruz where she earned her masters (2013) and her PhD (2016) in Astronomy and Astrophysics. As a Torres Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT, Jen developed optimized radial velocity follow up observing strategies for transiting planets detected by TESS, an MIT-led mission. She continues as a TSO vetter for MIT TESS.
Sarah Ballard, Torres Postdoctoral Fellow for Exoplanet Research 2015-2019
Sarah received her undergraduate degree in Astrophysics at UC Berkeley in 2007. She received her PhD from Harvard University in 2012, working with advisor David Charbonneau. After graduating from Harvard, Sarah went to the University of Washington as a NASA Carl Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow. In 2015 she came to MIT as a Torres Fellow for Exoplanetary Science at MIT. Sarah was also a L’Oreal For Women in Science Fellow in 2015. Sarah’s research interests include the detection and study of extrasolar planets with near-infrared and optical photometry, formation of planets, characterization of exoplanetary host stars, and photometric techniques. While at MIT, Sarah was a collaborator with TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), an MIT-led NASA mission, and continues as a TSO vetter for MIT TESS. Sarah is currently an assistant professor of Astronomy at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
Zachory Berta-Thompson, Torres Postdoctoral Fellow for Exoplanet Research 2013-2016
Zach earned his PhD in Astronomy from Harvard University in 2013, working with advisor David Charbonneau. Before grad school, he studied astrophysical sciences at Princeton University. Zach is currently an assistant professor of physics in the Department of Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Zach observes exoplanets, planets that orbit stars other than our Sun. He focuses particularly on exoplanets intermediate in size between the Earth and Neptune, trying to understand the composition, evolution, and origins of these strange planets that do not exist in our own Solar System. Zach uses small telescopes to discover transiting exoplanets and large telescopes to study these planets’ atmospheres. His work makes practical advances toward the long-term goal of searching for life around other stars. While at MIT, Zach was a collaborator with TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), an MIT-led NASA mission, and continues as a core member of the MIT TESS science team.