Planetary Astronomer Cristina Thomas Named Emerging Scholar 2022 for Pioneering Research and Mentorship – The NAU Review

assistant professor Christine Thomas from Northern Arizona University was named an emerging scholar by leading educational magazine Diversity: the challenges of higher education in its January 20 issue. The publication annually rewards an interdisciplinary group of early-career minority scholars who represent the best of American academia.

“An accomplished planetary astronomer, scientist and Latin American mentor, Dr. Thomas is a shining role model for our community. It paves the way for our diverse student body to embrace research and explore the boundless universe,” said the NAU President. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera.

Emerging scholars are selected by the magazine based on factors such as research, training, publication record, commitment to teaching and/or community service, competitiveness of field of study, and uniqueness of the field of study, as well as awards, honors and academics. achievements.

“It’s really exciting to be recognized with this group of scholars,” said Thomas. “It was an honor to be nominated for this award, and being selected was a pleasant surprise. that the future holds for us.

Thomas was nominated by Professor David Trilling, President of NAU Department of Astronomy and Planetary Sciences, and is one of 15 winners selected from hundreds of nominations.

“Dr. Thomas is a role model for all of us,” Trilling said. “Early on in her career, I was her official mentor, but now I find that she mentors me as often as I mentor her. She is an excellent colleague and a true rising star in the field of astronomy.

His research focuses largely on the study of asteroids, including those that pose a risk of impact on Earth. As a team leader for NASA’s DART mission, which launched in November, Thomas and his team are testing planetary defense techniques by attempting to alter an asteroid’s orbit. She also recently took charge of NASA’s first research program that uses telescopes to characterize near-Earth asteroids.

Thomas has nearly $2.5 million in active NASA grants, which is considered surprisingly high for a young researcher in this field. She is also a Guaranteed Time Observer for NASA’s recently launched James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is a recognition of the contributions she has made to the development of this very important mission.

Thomas, who was selected as a NASA Early Career Fellow in 2014, received additional funding in 2020 through the Fellowship Program for a Pilot Study of Small Asteroids from the Koronis Family, a large family of asteroids stony that would have formed at least two billion years ago during a catastrophic collision between two precursor asteroids. Among other grants, she received a major grant from NASA in 2020 for a three-year project to find asteroids with spectra similar to Jupiter’s Trojans in the main asteroid belt.

She teaches a variety of courses at NAU, including AST 180: Introduction to Astronomy, AST 530: Spectroscopy, and AST 201: Introduction to Indigenous Astronomy.

“Dr. Thomas is a committed teacher,” said Trilling. “She cares deeply about what her students learn and interacts with them in a rigorous, humorous, and caring manner. thoughtful attention, providing opportunity and support. Dr. Thomas collaborates on projects across NAU, working to strengthen our campus community. People seek him out for his scientific expertise, his calm and consistent competence, and because he is personable working with her, and she wears her “diversity mantle” easily, sharing her experience working on equity and diversity issues and balancing her minority identity in her professional endeavors. interpersonal.

“I am very fortunate to work with such a fantastic network of colleagues and students. It’s a great time to be an asteroid researcher, and I’m thrilled to be able to share this with NAU students. There are important milestones for my research program in the near future with the impact of the DART mission and the start of scientific observations with JWST in 2022,” said Thomas.

Thomas was part of the group of interdisciplinary faculty that organized the NAU chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicano and Native American Scientists (SACNAS). She is active in other professional organizations, having held various positions with the Division of Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and is the founder of the networking group Planetary Scientists of Color, which organizes events for major planetary science conferences.

Thomas received his undergraduate degree from the California Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After graduating, she held postdoctoral positions at NAU and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and was a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute before becoming an assistant professor at NAU in 2018.

His previous honors and awards include a Presidential Fellowship and an MIT Teaching Excellence Award; a National Science Foundation Senior Fellowship; and a NASA ROSES Postdoctoral Program Fellowship and Early Career Fellowship. She was also named a Kavli Institute Frontiers of Science Fellow.

Kerry Bennet | Office of the Vice President for Research

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