Pappalardo Postdoctoral Fellow (Physics)

Contact Information

Steven Villanueva is a first-generation college student from Grand Prairie, Texas. He served four years in the United States Air Force as an aircraft support equipment mechanic to fund his undergraduate education. Steven earned a B.S. in physics from Texas A&M University working on astronomy site-testing equipment with Prof. Darren DePoy. He completed his PhD as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and the David G. Price Fellow for Astronomical Instrumentation working with Prof. Scott Gaudi and Prof. Richard Pogge, with a dual focus on the study of exoplanets and on the construction of small telescopes. In his spare time, Steven enjoys playing soccer and board games.

Steven 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.

Research Areas and Instrumentation