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Dr. Rachel B. Fernandes


As of August 2023, I hold the position of President's Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at Pennsylvania State University under the mentorship of Dr. Rebekah Dawson, Dr. Eric Ford, and Dr. Jason Wright.

My research focuses on connecting diverse observations of planetary systems to fundamental theories in planet formation, while placing the Solar System and life on Earth into context. I am currently working on detecting transiting planets in young clusters, associations, and moving groups. I hope to compare the demographics of these planets with that of Kepler's Gyr-old population in order to understand how these planets have evolved with time.

I will also be Co-Chair of NASA's ExoPAG Exoplanet Demographics Science Interest Group 2 (SIG2) along with Dr. Samson Johnson. Our current priorities are to enable demographics via NASA's JWST and Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, help provide constraints to the frequency of Earth-size habitable zone planets, and work towards synthesized demographics across various detection techniques.

I completed my Ph.D. in Planetary Sciences at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory & the Department of Planetary Sciences at The University of Arizona where I worked with Dr. Ilaria Pascucci and Dr. Gijs Mulders on the detection, characterization and demographics of exoplanetary systems using data from both ground- and space-based telescopes.

My research background in planet formation spans from my undergraduate work at the University of Cincinnati from where, under the mentorship of Dr. Mike Sitko, I modeled the near-IR variability and the outer structures (gaps, rings, spirals arms, etc.) of the dust component of disks around Herbig Ae/Be stars.

I am also a part of the NASA NExSS Alien Earths/Earths in Other Solar Systems (EOS) team where we integrate research results from fourteen multi-disciplinary projects to advance our understanding of how nearby planetary systems formed and which systems are more likely to harbor habitable worlds. Identifying the closest, likely habitable worlds is a major goal of astrobiology and also a key step in NASA’s search for life in the Universe.

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