From an early age I was interested in science and maths. I was (and still am) extremely curious about the world around me, with an almost insatiable appetite to find out how and why things work. On occasion my curiosity and almost endless questions can drive my family and friends up the walls, but thankfully I can put these traits to good use in the world of science.
It took a while to find my way to astronomy. I first came to Trinity as an undergraduate with hopes to study chemistry, though my attention was eventually stolen by stories of planets, stars and galaxies. It was during my Senior Sophister project trip to Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory in the Canary Islands, with the Milky Way above my head, that I decided to pursue a path in astronomy.
I knew that I wanted to join the new and growing field of exoplanet research. I moved to the University of Edinburgh to carry out my PhD under the supervision of Prof. Beth Biller, one of the world leading experts in direct imaging of exoplanets. During my PhD, I studied objects called brown dwarfs, which are peculiar objects that bridge the gap between planets and stars. Studying the lowest mass brown dwarfs gives us a lot of insight into the atmospheres of directly-imaged exoplanets, which are much more challenging to observe. In particular, I looked for signs of “weather” in their atmospheres using telescopes on ground and in space.
Next, I moved to New York City to join the Astrophysics department at the American Museum of Natural History. Here I joined a large and vibrant research group that studied objects ranging from stars to planets. I loved my time at the museum, where I carried out numerous investigations of extrasolar atmospheres and developed my research niche of “exometeorology”. During this time I published some exciting results such as the first wind speed measurement of a directly-imaged world beyond the solar system and the largest and most sensitive search for cloud-driven “weather” in isolated giant planet analogs. At the same time, I became involved in numerous exciting public outreach opportunities ranging from public talks, school visits, mentoring programs and citizen science projects. I still work with many of my museum colleagues today.After a few great years in New York City, I was lucky enough to be awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, a unique grant that enables early-career researchers to establish their own research groups, which allowed me to move home to Dublin. I began my fellowship at the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, and soon moved to Trinity where I am now an Assistant Professor in addition to a University Research Fellow. I have started to build my group and have been developing new and exciting research projects focused on exoplanet atmospheres. Understanding the atmospheres of planets beyond our solar system is critical if we want to understand the formation and habitability of these planets in the future. Over the next few years, my group will investigate key atmospheric processes in giant extrasolar atmospheres, mainly making use of incoming data from the James Webb Space Telescope.