Astronomy Department

Aaron Geller Headshot

Aaron Geller

Aaron Geller, PhD, is an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium and Research Faculty at 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.

Geza Gyuk

Geza Gyuk

Geza Gyuk, PhD, 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.

Adler Astronomer Mark Hammergren

Mark Hammergren

Mark Hammergren, PhD, 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.

Andrew K. Johnston, VP Astronomy & Collections

Andrew Johnston

Andrew Johnston, PhD, oversees research at the Adler Planetarium as Vice President for Astronomy and Collections. Johnston also performs research on environmental dynamics, geophysical processes on terrestrial planets, and the history of space exploration. He has used satellite remote sensing and field survey techniques to understand land cover change, patterns of vegetation and urban forest cover, and planetary landforms. Johnston has authored books, curated exhibitions, developed planetarium programs, and lectures on themes such as space exploration, astronomy, geography, earth science, climate change, and the history of navigation.

Patrick McPike

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.

Michelle Nichols

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. As Director of Public Observing, Michelle leads the Adler’s various telescope and sky observing efforts, including the ‘Scopes in the City telescope outreach program, free nighttime observing in the Doane Observatory via Doane at Dusk, Adler’s telescope volunteer program, and much more.

Mark SubbaRao

Mark SubbaRao

Mark SubbaRao, PhD, 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.

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.

Ken Walczak Headshot

Ken Walczak

Ken Walczak is the Far Horizons Senior 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 & TED Senior Fellow Lucianne Walkowicz

Lucianne Walkowicz

Lucianne Walkowicz, PhD, is the Baruch S. Blumberg Chair in Astrobiology at the Library of Congress, and an Astronomer at the Adler Planetarium. She studies the ethics of Mars exploration, stellar magnetic activity, how stars influence a planet’s suitability as a host for alien life, and how to use advanced computing to discover unusual events in large astronomical data sets. Walkowicz is the founding director of the new LSSTC Data Science Fellowship Program, an initiative to provide astronomy graduate students with training in advanced computing, and coordinates the community of science collaborations for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. Walkowicz holds a BS in Physics and Astronomy from Johns Hopkins University, and an MS and PhD 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.

Maria Weber, Adler Astronomer

Maria Weber

Maria Weber, PhD, is a National Science Foundation Astronomy & Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow at Adler Planetarium and the University of Chicago. She studies how the Sun and other cool stars generate and sustain magnetic fields that may impact the habitability of orbiting planets. Dr. Weber’s research involves performing numerical simulations to understand how the motions of the hot gas in stellar interiors builds magnetism which then rises to the stellar surface. She also develops visualizations of her work and those of her collaborators for display at the Adler. Her passions include public outreach, developing visualizations for more effective science communication, and supporting the participation of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

Grace Wolf-Chase Headshot

Grace Wolf-Chase

Grace Wolf-Chase, PhD, is an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium, an Associate in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, and an Affiliated Faculty Member at the Zygon Center for Religion and Science. Her primary research interests are the earliest stages of star formation in our Galaxy, including how stars of all masses form in groups and clusters. She has many years of experience using infrared and radio telescopes to study the dense invisible clouds of gas and dust that give birth to stars both like and unlike our Sun.

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Wolf-Chase is a member of the science team for the Milky Way Project, a citizen science initiative that is part of Zooniverse, the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research. A member of the Adler’s Astronomy Department since 1998, she has worked on many exhibit and planetarium show development teams. 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. She currently serves as Vice President of the Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science (CASIRAS), where she helps bring the process and progress of science to seminary students and other religious scholars. Wolf-Chase holds an AB in Physics from Cornell University and a PhD in Astronomy from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Adler team, she spent two years as a National Research Council postdoctoral fellow at NASA Ames Research Center and two years as a President’s postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at Riverside.
Rey Maktoufi

Rey Maktoufi

Reyhaneh (Rey) Maktoufi is a researcher at the Adler Planetarium and a PhD Candidate at Northwestern University in the Media, Technology, and Society Program. Rey studies science communication and specifically looks at how scientists can elicit public curiosity, engage in dialogue, and share personal stories. She also trains scientists to improve their engagement and empathetic communication skills. Rey uses different media including videos, blog posts and cartooning to communicate science.

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