Astronomy Department

Aaron Geller Headshot

Aaron Geller

Aaron Geller is a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow at the Adler Planetarium and Northwestern University.  Dr. Geller studies how stars and planets are born and how they change with time, both through observations and numerical simulations.  In particular, he is interested in how gravitational interactions between stars and planets in star clusters shape the stellar and (exo)planetary systems that we observe. Dr. Geller also develops visualizations of his and others’ work for use at the Adler, within classroom lessons, and for the general astronomy enthusiast.  For more information, please see Dr. Geller’s personal website.

Andrew K. Johnston, VP Astronomy & Collections

Andrew Johnston

Dr. Andrew Johnston oversees research at the Adler Planetarium as Vice President for Astronomy and Collections. Johnston also performs research on environmental dynamics and geophysical processes on Earth and other terrestrial planets. He has used satellite remote sensing and field survey techniques to understand land cover change, patterns of human settlement, urban forest cover, forest canopy structure, and planetary landforms. Johnston has authored books, curated exhibitions, and developed planetarium and museum programs. He performs lectures on themes such as space exploration, astronomy, geography, earth science, climate change, and the history of navigation. He received his Ph.D. in Geographical Sciences from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Adler Astronomer Cynthia Tarr

Cynthia Tarr

Cynthia Tarr is the Far Horizons lab assistant. She keeps the lab running, trains new participants, and maintains a database that tracks more than nine years of Far Horizons flights and experiments. She helps orient new participants and drafts the guides and references used on every flight. Over the past 1½ years she has helped to manage and support the FH program’s efforts toward completing its first CubeSat mission.

Geza Gyuk Headshot

Geza Gyuk

Geza Gyuk, Ph.D. is a member of the international VERITAS collaboration, which built and operates the world’s most sensitive TeV gamma-ray observatory. As part of Adler’s AVAST group, he also studies the composition of V-type (basaltic) asteroids, thought to be remnants of larger proto-planetary objects. Gyuk leads Adler’s Far Horizons program, which is building a community of amateurs, students and volunteers who design, build, and operate space exploration missions.

Grace Wolf-Chase Headshot

Grace Wolf-Chase

Grace Wolf-Chase, Ph.D. is an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium and University of Chicago, and an Affiliated Faculty Member at the Zygon Center for Religion and Science. A member of the Milky Way Project and GLIMPSE360 science teams, she studies the early stages of star formation in our Galaxy through infrared and radio telescope observations. Wolf-Chase’s principal outreach focus is on bringing the wonders of scientific exploration to non-traditional audiences, particularly diverse communities of faith, through the Clergy Letter Project.

Ken Walczak Headshot

Ken Walczak

Ken Walczak is the Far Horizons Project Manager – overseeing the program’s operations. He has worked for the Adler since 2009. He attended Indiana University and studied film production and photography at The Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, CA. He owned and managed two businesses, designed and manufactured original furniture, and has been a life-long working artist. 

Adler Astronomer Kristie Nault

Kristie Nault

Kristie Nault is an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium, working on the near-Earth object (NEO) characterization and astrometric follow-up program. She works on measuring the positions of newly discovered asteroids in an effort to extend their observational arcs, which can allow for the accurate prediction of their trajectories. Her research interests include asteroids, meteorites, and the late stages of stellar evolution.

Larry Ciupik. Astronomer & Doane Observatory Director

Larry Ciupik

Larry Ciupik is Director of the Doane Observatory and part of the Adler’s VERITAS research group. He is involved with implementing and maintaining the auxiliary camera systems on VERITAS that improve the pointing accuracy. His research interests are in active galactic nuclei and in particular studying the optical emission from gamma-ray emitting AGN. Ciupik has been with the Adler for more than 45 years.

Lou Nigra Headshot

Lou Nigra

Lou Nigra joined Adler’s Far Horizons program in 2013 as Far Horizons Engineer. The path to what he considers the best job he’s ever had is a bit unconventional. In 2003, he left a long career in Electrical Engineering as a specialist in radio frequency systems to pursue a Ph.D. in Astronomy and got a MS in Physics along the way. His engineering career spanned a wide range of products from military radar equipment to mobile phones and was awarded four patents. His astrophysical research is grounded in Radio Astronomy and focused on the Interstellar Medium. After getting his Ph.D., he joined the Zooniverse team in the Adler Planetarium Citizen Science department to work on the SETILive project. After that, he moved to the Far Horizons program where he helps keep the lab equipped with the right stuff, teaches how to use it and heads the development of key electronic components and subsystems for the ballooning and satellite programs.

Adler Astronomer & TED Senior Fellow Lucianne Walkowicz

Lucianne Walkowicz

Lucianne Walkowicz is an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium. Dr. Walkowicz studies stellar magnetic activity and its influence on planetary habitability using data from NASA’s Kepler Mission. She is interested in the relationship between stellar magnetism (as traced by starspots, chromospheric emission and stellar flares) and fundamental stellar properties like age, rotation and differential rotation. She is also interested in how observations of stars can constrain planetary parameters and habitability, both as inputs to models of atmospheric photochemistry and escape, and as constraints on the system age and architecture. Walkowicz holds a BS in Physics and Astronomy from Johns Hopkins University, and an MS and Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Washington. Walkowicz is also a TED Senior Fellow and a practicing artist, working in a variety of media, from oil paint to sound.

Adler Astronomer Mark Hammergren

Mark Hammergren

Mark Hammergren, Ph.D. is an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium. His research interests include asteroids, comets, meteorites, and their effects on life on Earth, and the history and sociology of the flying saucer phenomenon. He directs the Astro-Science Workshop, a summer program for science-interested high school students currently in its 49th year, and cofounded the Adler’s Far Horizons citizen space exploration team.

Mark SubbaRao Headshot

Mark SubbaRao

Mark SubbaRao, Ph.D. is an astronomer and Director of the Space Visualization Laboratory at the Adler Planetarium. His area of research is cosmology, particularly the large-scale structure of the Universe. He was a builder of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which produced a 3D map of over one million galaxies. Dr. SubbaRao utilizes the capabilities of the Adler’s immersive theaters in his scientific visualization work. He chairs the Science and Data Visualization Task Force of the International Planetarium Society. He is also the creator of the sky shows Planet NineCosmic Wonder, and Welcome to the Universe.

Melissa Brucker Headshot

Melissa Brucker

Melissa Brucker is a postdoctoral research fellow observing near-Earth asteroids to enable accurate orbital predictions and characterization of asteroid surfaces and rotation rates. In addition to small rocky bodies, her interests include small icy bodies like 2014 MU69, the second target of the New Horizons mission to Pluto. Brucker has an MS and Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Oklahoma and completed her dissertation research at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ.

Michelle Nichols Headshot

Michelle Nichols

Michelle Nichols earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1995, and a Master of Education degree in Curriculum and Instruction from National-Louis University in 2002. Michelle has been employed by the Adler since 1995 and has been on many staff teams to develop exhibits, planetarium shows, and fun programs and events for Adler visitors. Michelle currently leads the Adler’s ‘Scopes in the City telescope outreach program, and she is the education program manager for the Adler’s Far Horizons high altitude ballooning and space program.

Patrick McPike Headshot

Patrick McPike

Patrick McPike is the Visualization Engineer for the Space Visualization Lab at the Adler Planetarium. Patrick has a Master of Fine Arts degree in visual effects and animation from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He has helped brings some of Adler’s best immersive films to the screen such as Planet Nine, One World, One Sky, and Destination Solar System. Patrick continues to create immersive films, data visualizations and animations for Adler’s theaters, exhibits and virtual reality devices.

Shane Larson Headshot

Shane Larson

Shane Larson is an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium. He is also a research associate professor of physics at Northwestern University, where he is a member of CIERA (Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics). He works in the field of gravitational wave astrophysics, specializing in studies of compact stars, binaries, and the galaxy.  He works in gravitational wave astronomy with both the ground-based LIGO project, and future space-based detectors for NASA. Shane is part of the LIGO team that detected gravitational waves in September 2015.

The Adler Planetarium is grateful to The Brinson Foundation for supporting Astronomy Research initiatives.