Meet the Keynote Speakers: Karin Oberg

In this series of posts, we sit down with a few of the keynote speakers of the 229th AAS meeting to learn more about them and their research. You can see a full schedule of their talks here!

Prof. Karin Oberg brings together the worlds of laboratory chemistry, numerical simulations and observations to better understand the plethora of planets in our galaxy.

Oberg is a professor at Harvard University and is the winner of this year’s Newton Lacy Pierce Prize, awarded annually for outstanding achievement in observational astronomy. Her talk is entitled “The Chemistry of Planet Formation.”

As a child, Oberg recalls being interested in astronomy from the influence of her father’s library. However, over the years her interest waned, and when she arrived at Caltech to begin her undergraduate degree, she wanted to become an engineer. She quickly realized that her true passion lied at the intersections of chemistry and astrophysics. She took this passion to Leiden University for graduate school and completed her PhD in Astronomy.

With the continuous rise of newly discovered exoplanets, Oberg has spent recent years trying to understand the diversity of planet compositions and the link to their formation channels. To do this, her team studies protoplanetary disks (which eventually collapse into newly formed planets) using radio telescopes like ALMA. However, these observations can only provide us with ‘snapshots’ of the formation process. To better understand the complex physical and chemical processes within the disk, her team them creates both analytical and numerical models and designs laboratory experiments to directly test predictions. Oberg highlights that laboratory work is often overlooked in our field, but that it is important to ground observations in this work when possible.

Oberg encourages young researchers to find career paths that are best for them and to not compare their own methods for others. “Be true to who you are” when finding your path, but at the same time she encourages students to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Much of Oberg’s research is at the frontier of astrochemistry, and she always looks for new problems which push her own understanding.

To learn more about Oberg’s exciting research, be sure to see his talk at 11:40 AM on Jan. 6th at #AAS229!

About Ashley Villar

I am a third year PhD student at Harvard University. I'm generally interested in optical transients, or the dramatic aftermaths of stellar eruptions, collisions and explosions. I'm also broadly interested in how astronomers can efficiently use large datasets produced in future missions. When I'm not working, I bake, exercise and try to enjoy Boston.

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