Dr. Donald Johanson is the Founding Director of the Institute of Human Origins. For the more than four decades, he has conducted field and laboratory research in paleoanthropology. Most notably, he discovered the 3.2-million-year old hominid skeleton popularly known as “Lucy” He has carried out field research in Ethiopia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Tanzania. He is an Honorary Board Member of the Explorers Club, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a member of many other professional organizations and recipient of several international prizes and awards. In 1975, Dr. Johanson was appointed curator of physical anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and, beginning in 1976, developed a laboratory of physical anthropology that attracted scholars from all over the world.
Dr. Johanson has written, among other books, the widely read “Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind” (with Maitland Edey), 1991, and numerous scientific and popular articles. In 1994, he co-wrote “Ancestors: In Search of Human Origins” and narrated a companion NOVA television series seen by more than 100 million people worldwide. He also published “From Lucy to Language” (with Blake Edgar, principal photography by David Brill), 1996. Dr. Johanson is a frequent lecturer at university and other forums in the United States and abroad.
Dr. Alan Stern is a planetary scientist, space program executive, aerospace consultant, and author. He leads NASA’s $880M New Horizons mission that successfully explored the Pluto system and is now exploring the Kuiper Belt—the farthest exploration in the history of humankind.
In 2020, NASA selected Dr. Stern to fly as the first NASA-funded commercial space crewmember aboard a Virgin Galactic suborbital space mission. The flight is expected to take place in 2022; there he will perform astronomical and space physiology experiments.
In both 2007 and 2016, Dr. Stern was named to the Time 100 list. In 2007 and 2008, he served as NASA’s chief of all space and Earth science programs, directing a $4.4B organization with 93 separate flight missions and a program of over 3,000 research grants. During his NASA tenure, a record 10 major new flight projects were started and deep reforms of NASA’s scientific research and the education and public outreach programs were put in place. His tenure was notable for an emphasis on cost control in NASA flight missions that resulted in a 63% decrease in cost overruns.
Since 2008, Dr. Stern has had his own aerospace consulting practice. His current and former consulting clients include Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Naveen Jain’s Moon Express Google Lunar X-Prize team, Ball Aerospace, Paragon Space Development Corporation, the NASTAR Center, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and the Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Stern is a founder and serves as the Chief Science Officer of World View, a near-space ballooning company. In 2016 and again in 2017 he was elected to be the Board Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
Dr. Cathy Olkin is a planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Her main topic of research is the outer solar system, specifically planetary atmospheres and surfaces. She carries out ground-based observations to learn about the size and shape of small worlds as well as planetary atmospheres.
Dr. Olkin works on NASA’s New Horizons mission as the lead of one of the scientific instruments, the color camera and composition mapper. She is also the Deputy Principal Investigator for NASA’s Lucy mission. This will be the first spacecraft to visit the Trojan asteroids, asteroids that share an orbit with Jupiter and are the left over building blocks from planetary formation.
Christa Sadler is an author, educator, paleontologist, wilderness guide, and the founder of One New Education, a nonprofit dedicated to providing scholarships for girls and young women in developing nations. She received her Bachelors in Physical Anthropology from University of California, Berkeley, and her Masters in Earth Sciences from Northern Arizona University. She has undertaken research in archeology, geology, ecology, and paleontology across the globe, including searching for dinosaurs in 115-degree heat in Montana and Utah, fighting off dust storms and overly curious camels in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, and steering clear of annoyed marine iguanas in the Galapagos Islands.
Alden Tombaugh was born in Flagstaff, Arizona in 1945. The son of Pluto discoverer Clyde and Patsy, Alden is now retired from a career in banking. He also served as a building contractor for years. For two decades, Alden and his wife, Cherylee, have owned and operated Tombaugh Educational Diagnostics, Inc., an educational services business.
Dr. Jeffrey Hall joined the staff at Lowell in 1992 as a postdoctoral research fellow and stayed on as an astronomer, specializing in the study of the Sun and Sun-like star, with the goal of lending an astronomical perspective to solar influences on terrestrial climate. He heads the American Astronomical Society’s standing committee on light pollution, space debris, and radio interference, and has played an active role in dark-sky preservation efforts around Arizona.
Lauren Amundson is Lowell Observatory’s Archivist and Librarian. She has been at Lowell since 2003 and head of the Library and Archives department since 2011. She leads a small team of staff, volunteers, and interns whose goal is to collect, preserve, and provide access to the Observatory’s vast collection of books, documents, photographs, drawings, audiovisual materials, 3D artifacts, and glass plate negatives.
Dr. Richard Binzel is recently retired from a 30-year teaching career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a Professor of Planetary Science and Joint Professor of Aerospace Engineering. His astronomical observing expertise spans from asteroids near the Earth to distant Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, specializing in reconnaissance measurements that help define the science objectives for solar system exploration missions. He is a recipient of NASA’s Silver Achievement medal, the second highest honor bestowed by NASA to a civilian scientist.
Dan Durda is a Fellow and former member of the Board of Directors of the
International Association of Astronomical Artists. His artwork has
appeared in hundreds of magazine articles, books, and web news stories
and his animations have been featured in television documentaries on PBS
and The Science Channel. Dan is a professional astronomer whose research
focuses on asteroids. He appears regularly on The Science Channel series
“How The Universe Works” and he was the 2015 recipient of the American
Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences Carl Sagan Medal
for excellence in public communication in planetary science.
Dr. Stephen Levine joined Lowell Observatory’s science staff in 2010. He moved to Lowell from the US Naval Observatory’s Flagstaff Station to lead the commissioning of the Discovery Channel Telescope, now known as the Lowell Discovery Telescope (LDT). During that period, Levine also served as the Deputy Director for Technology.
With the LDT in full science operations since 2015, Levine transitioned into the role of LDT Scientist. In that position he works with all parties involved with the LDT to make the best use of the facility. He has emphasized working to bring together the scientific users and the engineering and support communities.
Dr. Levine’s primary research interests center around large astrometric surveys and the numerical simulation of the dynamics of astrophysical disk systems, emphasizing understanding the structure and evolution of lopsided disk and irregular galaxies. He is investigating uses of observations of gravitational microlensing for disentangling astrophysical disk structures.
Levine built and operates the PMM Image and Catalogue Archive (PICA). PICA hosts one of the few copies of the Precision Measuring Machine’s scans of the photographic Schmidt survey plates that were used for the http://astrometry.mit.edu/picaconstruction of the USNO-A and USNO-B star catalogues.
Brent Minchew is the Cecil and Ida Green Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he leads the Remote Sensing and Glacier Dynamics group. Brent received his BS and MS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 2008 and 2010, respectively. He earned his PhD at the California Institute of Technology in 2016 and was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the British Antarctic Survey from 2016 to 2018. Brent’s research interests focus on the flow, deformation, and fracture of glacier ice. He uses remote sensing observations and simple physical models to study the mechanics of rapid glacier flow.
Taylor Perron is Professor of Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary
Sciences at MIT. He is best known for his work on how rivers shape
topography on Earth and other planets. Prof. Perron is a Fellow of the
American Geophysical Union, a recipient of the James B. Macelwane
Medal, and a MacArthur Fellow. He holds an AB in Earth and Planetary
Sciences and Archaeology from Harvard University and a PhD in Earth
and Planetary Science from the University of California, Berkeley.
Observer / Research Assistant (Lowell Observatory)
Tom Polakis has been an active amateur astronomer for 45 years, during which has seen Saturn circle the sun 1 1/2 times. His main interests involve visual observing of all astronomical phenomena, and imaging of same with equipment ranging from a phone to a backyard observatory. He has a particular interest in describing the universe as an ever-changing entity. His writing and photography have regularly appeared in magazines such as “Astronomy” and “Sky & Telescope,” and more recently has been an author or co-author in refereed astronomical publications.
Brian Skiff has spent nearly 40 years at Lowell Observatory as an observer and research assistant. Among Skiff’’s accomplishments at Lowell is the vital role he played in the decade-long Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search (LONEOS) survey for near-Earth asteroids.
He has measured thousands of plates, films, and CCD images to improve observations of the orbits of asteroids at a time when there was little activity in this area.
In support of the observatory’s long-running solar analogs project, Skiff has spent 1,200 nights over 15 years doing single-channel photoelectric photometry on Sun-like stars to explore long-term variations in the 11-year sunspot cycle. He continues this work to today, conducting spectroscopic observation of stellar chromospheric activity. In recent years, Skiff’s work has encompassed recording the rotational light curves of more than 200 asteroids, both near-Earth and beyond, via CCD and using several telescopes. Skiff maintains a comprehensive catalogue of stellar spectral classifications, which is one of the most-frequently used items in the VizieR catalogue-query service.
Skiff took the final photographic plates with the Pluto Discovery Telescope before its retirement and is a valuable resource in recounting how this and other Lowell instruments were used. His knowledge of the night sky is legendary in both professional and amateur circles, and he has also greatly impacted Lowell’s visitor program, for decades volunteering during public nights to share his love for astronomy and the night sky.
Postdoctoral Scholar Research Associate in Planetary Science (Caltech)
Dr. Kelsey Moore is a geobiologist and astrobiologist with a focus on microbial life on early Earth and potentially on Mars. Her research centers around the ways in which microbes—through their biochemical makeup and their metabolic activity—interact with the environment. She is interested in how ancient microbes shaped young planets and, in parallel, how ancient environments impacted microbes and their evolution. She addresses questions related to the evolution of the biosphere on Earth and the preservation of organic matter and fossils. This includes investigations of microfossils and organic matter that were preserved during the Proterozoic and Archean eons and experiments that shed light on the microbe-mineral interactions that may have promoted fossilization in ancient environments. As a member of the Mars2020 science team and the PIXL and SHERLOC instrument teams, she extends her research to the search for biosignatures on Mars.
Systems Engineer, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
Dr. Roedolph (Rudy) Opperman is a lead systems engineer working at Momentus Inc., a young in-space transportation company based out of San Jose, CA. Prior to joining the Momentus team in May of 2021, Rudy worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as a fault protection engineer on the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover, Psyche and the Mars Insight lander missions. Prior to JPL, Rudy worked for Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing company, where he designed, built, tested and supported deployment of several small satellite payloads that are operated in Low Earth Orbit inside the International Space Station. Rudy’s research and career focus spans human spaceflight physiology, space hardware design, sensor fusion and control, orbital debris mitigation, space policy, and most recently robotic space exploration and rendezvous. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pretoria, and advanced degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics as well as Technology and Policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Dr. de Wit leads the Disruptive Planets Group at MIT whose central mission is to discover and study new worlds to consolidate our understanding of planets and habitats. His primary interest and expertise lie in the field of data science where Math and Science are brought together to make sense of newly accessible pieces of Reality. Over the past ten years, he has developed and applied new analysis techniques to map exoplanet atmospheres, study the radiative and tidal planet-star interactions in eccentric planetary systems, and constrain the atmospheric properties of exoplanets.
Kevin Schindler is the historian at Lowell Observatory. When not digging through Lowell’s archives, he writes articles for a variety of publications and contribute a bi-weekly astronomy column, “View from Mars Hill”, for the Arizona Daily Sun newspaper. He has written several books, including Pluto and Lowell Observatory, co-authored with Dr. Will Grundy.