Adler Planetarium Leadership & Executive Team
Michelle B. Larson, PhDPresident and CEO
Michelle Larson discovered astronomy in her 20s, when she pointed a pair of binoculars at the Moon. The stunning details visible on its craggy surface were a complete surprise, and the experience left her eager to find out what other secrets the sky had to offer. Now, as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Michelle leads a talented team that helps people of all ages explore and discover our Universe.
Michelle enjoys making science approachable, often through connections to familiar, everyday items. Don’t be surprised if you end up speaking with her about rising cells of cream in your coffee, or her potato that looks like a comet. You may even find yourself exclaiming, like one young visitor did after looking through her telescope, “Hey! Saturn looks just like a Chevy symbol!”
Before joining the Adler in 2013, Michelle held positions in science engagement and administration at Utah State University, The Pennsylvania State University, the Montana Space Grant Consortium, the California Institute of Technology, and the University of California–Berkeley. She earned a PhD in physics from Montana State University, where she studied neutron stars and realized her passion for sharing science with the public through a NASA project about our star, the Sun. Michelle is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the American Physical Society and serves on several national and Chicago-area advisory boards.
Michelle lives just outside Chicago with her husband—who is also an astrophysicist—their daughter, and three cats.
Dr. Andrew JohnstonVice President of Astronomy & Collections
Dr. Andrew Johnston oversees the museums’ efforts in astronomy research and engagement, cutting-edge space visualizations, near-space exploration, history of astronomy research, and conservation of and outreach with the Adler’s world-renowned collections. Before joining the Adler team, Dr. Johnston had worked in museums for 30 years, conducting science research and developing new museum programs. Johnston received his PhD in Geographical Sciences from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Kate BrueggemannVice President of Development
Kate Brueggemann brings a wealth of experience in all aspects of fundraising as head of the Development team at the Adler. Prior to joining the Adler, Ms. Brueggemann was the Director of Principal Giving at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis where she oversaw major donations, planned giving, and the capital campaign. She also served as Development Director at the Missouri History Museum. Ms. Brueggemann holds a BA in English Literature from Truman State University and an MA in English from the University of Missouri- St. Louis. She also holds a CFRE credential (Certification for Fundraising Executives).
Marcia HeuserVice President of Finance and Administration/CFO
Ms. Heuser leads the Adler’s finance, human resources, and operations teams. She joined the Adler as Controller in 2010. Prior to the Adler, her career includes responsibilities as an Audit Manager at Ernst and Young, as well as Senior Manager and Controllership roles with other organizations. A CPA, Ms. Heuser has an MBA in Finance and Policy Studies from the University of Chicago and a BBA in Accounting and Information Systems from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Sarah ColeVice President of Guest Experience
Ms. Cole comes to the Adler with over a decade of expertise in leadership, guest experience, exhibitions, and project management. She has a successful history enriching the visitor experience by empowering programming and exhibition teams to transform ways audiences can connect to museums. Prior to joining the Adler, Ms. Cole served as the Director of Visitor Experience at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and multiple roles over the course of five years at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. In her career, she has been responsible for the conception, development, management and delivery of dynamic visitor experiences that provided excellent customer service and strong content interpretation. Ms. Cole holds a BS in biology from Butler University and an MA in museum studies from Indiana University.
Chris ComerfordVice President, Chief Information Officer
Chris Comerford joins the Adler with almost two decades of experience in leadership, strategy, and technology. He has successfully led a series of initiatives to enable organizational priorities through technology in both the academic and private sectors. Comerford was most recently the Senior Director of Information Technology and Administrative Initiatives for the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University. He has also held technology leadership roles at Maven Wave Partners, ShopLocal, and the University of Chicago. Comerford earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and his MBA in strategy and management from the University of Chicago.
Ryu MizunoVice President of Marketing and Communications
Ryu Mizuno has nearly twenty years of broad marketing and brand strategy experience in both the private and nonprofit sectors. Prior to joining the Adler, Mizuno was Senior Director of External Relations for the YMCA of the USA where he was responsible for marketing efforts geared to elevate brand reputation, public awareness, and fundraising for the Y as a leading nonprofit for youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. He also served as Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Catholic Relief Services, and led award-winning marketing campaigns for world-renowned brands such as UNICEF, Major League Baseball, and Tiffany & Co.
Mizuno holds a BS degree in Communications from Boston University and an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. He speaks fluent Japanese.
Laura Trouille, PhDSenior Director of Citizen Science
Laura Trouille, PhD, was been leading the Alder’s Citizen Science efforts since June 2015. Before that time she held a dual postdoctoral position at Northwestern University and at the Adler, as an observational astronomer (examining supermassive black holes) and a science-education researcher (on the impact of lesson plans incorporating computational thinking into K-12 STEM education). She earned a Bachelors’ Degree summa cum laude from Dartmouth College and holds a doctorate in Astronomy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.