University of Washington Astrobiology Program

Fall 2012

Student Spotlight: Aomawa Shields

Our graduate students have accomplished many exciting things in 2012! One in particular is Aomawa Shields, a fourth-year PhD student in Astronomy who studies the effect of stellar and planetary interactions on planetary ice coverage. This spring, Aomawa wowed us with her success at this year's Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) which took place in Atlanta, Georgia, from April 16-20.

At the beginning of the week, Aomawa won the “Audience Choice” award for her presentation in FameLab Astrobiology - a competition to quickly but effectively communicate a science topic to a general audience. That Friday, Aomawa also won first place in the AbSciCon Student Poster Competition, for her poster titled “The Effect of Host Star Spectral Energy Distribution on Ice Line Latitude in Terrestrial Exoplanetary Systems”, in which she explains how stellar spectral type can affect planetary ice-albedo feedback. By modeling an exoplanet's climate using various observational stellar spectra, she has found that planets orbiting brighter, hotter stars (with higher near-UV output) appear more likely to become ice-covered, while those orbiting dimmer, cooler stars appear to be less sensitive to ice-albedo feedback, making a “snowball” state less likely. In 2011, Aomawa was awarded a competitive three-year NSF fellowship to support this research.

More about Aomawa: She received her B.S. in Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences from MIT in 1997, and an MFA in Acting from UCLA in 2001. Before entering the UWAB program, she worked at Caltech supporting the Spitzer Space Telescope, co-hosted the PBS show “Wired Science”, acted in the film “Nine Lives” (one of Ebert and Roeper's “Top Ten Films of 2005”), and published the essay Universe: The Sequel in the anthology “She's Such A Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff” (Seal Press, 2006). Recently, she applied and was accepted into the AAS Astronomy Ambassadors Program - a program providing mentoring and training experience for young astronomers - which will kick off at AAS in Long Beach, CA in January 2013.

A video of Aomawa's FameLab presentation is viewable here.

Or, view a PDF of Aomawa's award-winning poster!

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Photo: Graduate student Aomawa Shields (with NASA Sr. Scientist for Astrobiology, Mary Voytek, and NAI Director, Carl Pilcher) won first place in the national Student Poster Competition at the 2012 Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) in Atlanta, GA.

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