I’m a postdoc working with Ian Crossfield on exoplanet observations. I completed my PhD in 2018, working with Dr Sasha Hinkley at the University of Exeter.
My research uses high resolution and high contrast adaptive optics imaging to understand the exoplanetary systems of nearby stars. I’m interested in understanding the frequency and properties of exoplanet systems, and in particular the architectures of exoplanet systems, and the interactions of exoplanets with debris disks and with binary companion stars.
By using state-of-the-art high contrast imaging systems such as VLT/SPHERE, it is possible to image wide-separation planets down to a few Jupiter masses around nearby stars. During my PhD, I led several projects using the SPHERE facility, where we focused predominantly on targets with strong evidence for dusty debris disks – and specifically, with evidence that there are multiple, segregated, dusty debris belts carved into these disks. The separate belts of debris are similar to the asteroid and Kuiper belts in our own solar system. For targets with this configuration, the gravitational influence of one or several giant planets is believed to have carved out the gaps between the belts of debris. Studying such systems allows the link between scuplted dust and exoplants to be probed, and in some cases scattered light images of the disks themselves are revealed.
High resolution imaging is also vital in validating candidate exoplanets detected using transit spectroscopy. Since the pixels of transit survey missions are typically large, light from nearby stellar sources can contaminate a signal. The observed transit signal will therefore appear smaller, and the corresponding planet radius will be calculated to be smaller than its true value. High resolution images are therefore vital to confirm whether such signal dilution is occurring, and to quantify the extent to which neighbouring stars contaminate each observation. As well as confirming whether the candidate exoplanets are real, such work helps us understand how commonly planets are found in binary star systems. I use high resolution imaging techniques to validate candidate exoplanets identified with TESS and study exoplanets in binary star systems, and am working to understand the effect of companion stars on the occurrence rate and orbital properties of exoplanet systems.
Outside of research, I am a keen science communicator. I have written for astrobites, delivered a school lecture you with the institute of physics in the UK, and given talks at the Pint of Science festival. More recently I’ve becoming involved with the Boston chapter of Astronomy on Tap. When I’m not talking about exoplanets, I can usually be found out for a run or at the local climbing gym.