What is your role in the DESI project?
I work alongside Nathalie Palanque-Delabrouille as the co-Spokesperson for DESI. We coordinate the efforts of collaboration members in research with DESI data. We help establish the critical path toward key measurements that motivated the construction of the project but also work with collaboration members to identify new and more sophisticated studies with the data. We identify the scientific goals in the collaboration, create the collaborative framework for members to pursue those goals, and help those researchers present their results to the rest of the scientific community.
On a day-to-day basis, we participate in many committee and working group discussions, discuss research with DESI members to help identify collaborators, and track the instrumentation and data quality so that we can keep the collaboration members apprised of the project status. We are currently identifying scientific programs that can be conducted with the DESI facility in the late 2020’s, after the five-year survey is complete. It is critical to identify those programs now and communicate the potential to the larger community to seed the process for any future program.
Where were you born? Where do you live now? What are the interesting places that standout that your work has taken you to?
I was born in northern New Jersey and have lived in Little Rock, Arkansas, suburban Philadelphia, central New York state, and the San Francisco Bay Area. I now live in Salt Lake City, UT and have lived here since 2009. I feel most at home in California and Utah, as I have lived in those two places longer than anywhere else in my life.
As a scientist, I preferred travel for observing runs. Hat Creek, in the high desert area between Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen in northern California, was probably my favorite location. I traveled to Hat Creek as a graduate student for the radio observations that constituted my thesis data set. My other preferred observing location was on the Big Island of Hawai’i, where I used to travel for Keck observations during my term as a graduate student and postdoctoral researcher.
The most interesting places I traveled were actually related to a previous job, before starting graduate school. I used to work as a wilderness guide in Canada, and I have spent more than 300 nights camping in the wilderness of Ontario, Quebec, and the Northwest Territories. My last trip ended in Kuujjuaq, which is in the Nunavik region of Quebec, on Ungava Bay. I even had a celebrity sighting in the Kuujjuaq airport: the town of 2500 residents was abuzz with a visit from Liam Neeson. He was fairly understated, but his entourage of 20-somethings really left an impression.
What would you say is the most interesting or exciting thing about your job?
As co-Spokesperson, I have to learn about the status of the instrument, the operations of the telescope, the quality of the data, and science ranging from explorations of the Milky Way to tests of inflation on scales of billions of lightyears. I am motivated by the challenge of learning the stellar, galaxy, and quasar astrophysics behind each DESI spectrum while also learning what needs to go into massive simulations. There are just many different ways to interpret the DESI data and many different ways to produce exciting results.
Any advice for aspiring scientists?
As with any career, there will always be uncertainty in job prospects and future research in the sciences. First and foremost, don’t focus on those uncertainties, but rather seek gratification in the work you are doing today. Whether the project is large or small, make sure that you have a sense of your own contribution to the project and also how that project contributes to the entire field. The more you understand how your project fits into the broader landscape of science, the more you can appreciate the work of your peers and their diversity of contributions to bring the project to fruition.
Finally, what do you do for fun?
I have two young kids, ages 5 and 8. I spend much of my free time teaching them to bike, ski, garden, camp, and generally appreciate the outdoors. I plan for them to be my long-term companions for these activities, and I very much enjoy running my training program toward that goal.