I am currently a graduate student in the astronomy department at the University of California, Berkeley, where I've been since 2004. My research focuses on understanding the phenomenal cosmic explosions known as gamma-ray bursts and (in particular) investigating the properties of their environments, especially using photometric techniques and at high redshifts.
I was born and grew up in Socorro, New Mexico, a small town located in the Rio Grande Valley near the center of the state. From a very young age I have been interested in the natural world around us and the rules and patterns that underly it, and I am still fascinated with how the Earth works and the origins of our planet's beauty and magnificent natural diversity. Still, I credit my father - a radio astronomer at the Very Large Array - for really sparking my interest in things in astronomy. His mentorship and advice over three years of increasingly complex high-school science fair projects really helped instill a love of not just the subject but also the process of science and irrevocably send me down a path seeking a research carreer. After graduating from high school in 2000, I began my undergraduate work at Cornell University in New York state, loving the change of environment from New Mexico's scrubby deserts. I returned to New Mexico for two summers to work as a programming intern at the Array Operations Center, and also spent a summer in Boston on a project involving X-ray galaxy clusters at the CfA.
I graduated 2004 with a degree in Physics and moved west again to begin graduate school here at Berkeley. I began working with my research advisor, Joshua Bloom, starting during my first year there and have continued doing so until now, focusing mostly on the UV/optical/infrared properties of long gamma-ray bursts and their host galaxies, but also with significant dabbling in a range of other related subjects, including short bursts, magnetar hyperflares, and supernovae. Being an observer in the field of gamma-ray bursts combines the excitement of instantaneous discovery - a new burst occurrs every few days, and each new explosion always has the potential to teach us something dramatically new - with the ability to learn new things by surveying a large population of objects to identify the most important trends. Gamma-ray bursts are also directly connected to many other of the most currently fascinating parts of astronomy, such as the formation and evolution of extreme stars to probing the most distant regions of the universe. My thesis project, based around a six-year observing campaign on the largest optical telescope in the Western hemisphere, centers around the properties of gamma-ray burst host galaxies and their connection with star formation and dust obscuration in the early universe.
Other major interests of mine within the field include the disparate subjects of software development, and communication with the public. Astronomy is highly dependent on complex custom software tools (and rapidly becoming increasingly so), but challenged by the fact that few such tools are developed in a standardized manner, necessitating constant reinvention of the wheel. Furthermore, few astronomers have significant formal training in programming techniques. While certainly not a computer science expert myself, I think it is important that astronomers try to develop software with the community's needs (and not just their own) in mind, emphasizing simplicity, user-friendliness, and ease of installation and availability. Along these lines, I've developed several tools for common tasks that I hope will eventually gain some widespread usage - a rapid optical/IR-imaging astrometry solver, imaging and spectroscopy cosmic ray rejection tools, and a multi-color gamma-ray burst light curve fitter. I also maintain a PHP-driven interactive website (GRBOX) cataloging the properties of every well-localized gamma-ray burst ever detected.
As fascinating as it is to work in astronomy's cutting edge, the discoveries mean little if not appropriately communicated with the general public. I am passionate about teaching, and have taught extensively for Berkeley's "service" courses meant to introduce astronomy to nonmajors: in particular I have served as the head graduate student instructor (GSI) for these courses on three occasions. I have also given several public talks in different venues and helped with outdoor evening observing sessions for elementary school students and for the general public. I love having the opportunity to share astronomy's excitement with people - explaining, for example, how diverse the different stars in the sky are, from the luminous supergiants to sunlike stars - and also giving students the tools that let them solve real-world astronomy problems - using real data rather than artificially constructed examples. As a GSI I spent quite a bit of effort developing and refining a number of worksheets that (up to six years later) are still widely used among graduate students here.
The Earth is just as fascinating as the sky above, and so when I have the time I try to able to get outside and experience the outdoors - hiking, backpacking, and skiing are all passions of mine (anything involving the mountains!) Lately I have also discovered international travel, and hope to have the chance to visit many more places as the years go by!