PhD Student, School of Earth and Space Exploration
Research Interests: Astrobiology, microbial ecology, planetary habitability, ecosystem modeling, exoplanets, Solar system exploration
Education: B.A. in Astronomy and Biology from the University of Virginia, M.S. in Environmental Science from Washington State University
Current Research: It will soon be technically feasible to spectrally analyze the atmospheres of exoplanets. What possible signatures of life might be detectable in these spectra? This isn't an easy question to answer, as it turns out- especially given that the data is likely to be rather marginal for the near future, and that we don't know for sure what gases might be biological relevant on planets with different ecosystems than ours. My research hopes to tackle this dilemma from a different angle- what if instead of focusing on specific gases, it turns out that chemical reaction networks between the gases can be used as a biosignature? Previous research has suggested that the network topology of Earth's atmospheric chemistry is unique in the Solar System- likely due to the presence of a global biosphere. If we can determine that Earth's example is generalizable and life does have a detectable influence on the reaction networks of its environment, the result will be a biosignature that is both robust and potentially universal across differing biospheres. We hope to evaluate this hypothesis by analyzing the networks of microbial communities across a wide range of environments and metabolic lifestyles, as well as the networks in totally abiotic environments for comparison.
Personal: I am an avid enthusiast of music (both performing and listening), science fiction, cooking, reading, and running, and have also been known to be an occasional knitter, equestrian, would-be fiction writer, and blues/swing dancer. Some of my other passions include spaceflight and its history, feminism and gender, science communication, sustainability, and LGBT visibility in the sciences (and, on that note, I'm also (thus far) the world's only openly queer trans astrobiologist). Originally from a tiny village in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northwest Virginia, I currently reside in Tempe with my partner, along with a Mastiff-mix who thinks he's a lapdog, and a fairly amicable bearded dragon.