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Chair: Phillip Stancil (University of Georgia) [2019 - 2021]

Dr. Phillip Stancil is Professor and Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Georgia (UGA). His work focuses on computational atomic and molecular astrophysics including charge transfer, molecular excitation, photodissociation, radiative association, atom interactions on surfaces, and electronic structure of heavy atoms. He is particularly interested in applications to charge-exchange X-ray emission in astronomical sources, chemistry in the early universe, molecular emission from photodissociation regions, AGB outflows, and protoplanetary disks, and heavy-element opacities in kilonova outflows. He received his PhD in Physics from Old Dominion University while a Predoctoral
Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Before arriving at UGA, he was a postdoctoral fellow at UNLV and then a Wigner Fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Affiliation: Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Georgia
Contact: lad.chair @


Vice Chair: Murthy Gudipati (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory) [2019 - 2021]

Dr. Murthy Gudipati was born and raised in southern India. He received his Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India in 1987. After a 3 year post-doctoral collaboration with Prof. Josef Michl (at the University of Texas at Austin), he joined University of Cologne, Germany in 1990, where he was awarded Habilitation in Physical Chemistry (tenure) in late 1998. In 2007, Dr. Gudipati joined NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he studies the evolution of ices in the universe.

Dr. Gudipati's research interests can be broadly defined as understanding the physics and chemistry of interstellar and Solar System ices through laboratory simulations, observations and instrumentation. His research in recent years has focused on physics and chemistry of cryogenic ices. Knowledge acquired through laboratory experiments on ices is crucial in order to develop next generation instrumentation concepts for orbiter remote sensing, in-situ lander, rover, or manned missions.

Affiliation: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Contact: LAD.vchair @


Past Chair: Randall Smith (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory) [2019 - 2021]

Dr. Randall Smith is an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian where he primarily works in high-energy astrophysics. He is involved with the development of multiple X-ray observatories including Arcus, XRISM, and Athena, and tries to maintain a broad perspective regarding science priorities in astrophysics and their impact on mission requirements and capabilities. His research focuses on processes in the interstellar medium and on maintaining an atomic database (AtomDB) that is used throughout X-ray astronomy to model the spectra of hot collisional plasmas.

Affiliation: Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
Contact: rsmith @


Treasurer: Christiaan Boersma (NASA Ames Research Center) [2019 - 2022]

Dr. Christiaan Boersma received his PhD in Astronomy (thesis) in 2009 and was then awarded a NASA Postdoctoral Program fellowship with the Astrophysics & Astrochemistry Laboratory Group at NASA Ames Research Center. After concluding this fellowship in 2012, he moved to the San José State University Research Foundation position he currently holds in support of a collaboration with the NASA Ames Astrophysics and Astrochemistry Laboratory Group. Dr. Boersma's research focuses on the role of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in a multitude of astronomical environments, with special interest for intermediate-mass star-forming regions. He conducts his research through analyzing and interpreting astronomical data obtained by today's state-of-the-art ground-, air- and space-based observatories, e.g., VISIR, SOFIA and Herschel, using a combination of laboratory and synthesized spectroscopic data. The NASA Ames PAH IR Spectroscopic Database (PAHdb) plays an important part in his research. Dr. Boersma had a leading role in the assembly and construction of PAHdb and its associated tools. PAHdb now guides the development of new methodologies in analyzing astronomical data, which are particularly relevant to data returned by future astronomical observatories, like the JWST.

Affiliation: NASA Ames Research Center / San Jose State University
Contact: LAD.Treasurer @


Secretary: Rachel L. Smith (NC Museum of Natural Sciences/Appalachian State University) [2019 - 2022]

Dr. Rachel Smith is an observational astronomer and curator based at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and Appalachian State University. She observes young stellar objects using ground-based telescopes such as Keck and the Infrared Telescope Facility, as well as the airborne observatory, SOFIA, to investigate prebiotic and protoplanetary molecules in disks and envelopes across the Galaxy. She is currently working with experimentalists and theorists to attain a more comprehensive understanding of the astronomical observations, and is very interested in interdisciplinary approaches toward answering big questions. Rachel also enjoys sharing the excitement of science with the public, and engaging her students in her research and outreach projects.

Affiliation: NC Museum of Natural Sciences/Appalachian State University
Contact: lad.secretary @



Mike Hahn (Columbia University) (NASA GSFC) [2019 - 2022]

Dr. Mike Hahn received his B.S. from Carnegie Mellon University and his Ph. D. from Columbia University. He is currently a Research Scientist in the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory at Columbia University. Dr. Hahn's main research interest is solar physics and especially the coronal heating problem. This is one of the major unsolved problems in astrophysics. Dr. Hahn is pursuing solutions to this problem through solar observations, laboratory plasma experiments, and atomic physics measurements. His observational studies of solar spectra indicate that plasma waves play an important role in heating the corona. The objective of the plasma experiments is to generate similar waves in the lab, where their properties can be studied in greater detail. Other experiments in atomic physics are improving the interpretation of observations.

Affiliation: Columbia University
Contact: mhahn @


Silvia Protopapa (Southwest Research Institute) [2019 - 2022]

Dr. Silvia Protopapa is a Principal Scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Her research focuses on the compositional characterization of small bodies in the outer solar system (comets, trans-Neptunian objects), as well as the Moon. Her work involves spectroscopic observations from spacecraft (New Horizons, Rosetta, Deep Impact) and ground-based telescopes such as VLT, DCT, and IRTF. She has strong expertise in data treatment and analysis, using some of the most advanced analytical tools for spectral modeling and radiative transfer, and in duties such as observation planning and data acquisition. To support her observational work, she also performs laboratory measurements of analogue materials (e.g., cryogenic ices, ice mixtures, minerals). She is Science Team Member of the NASA Deep Impact eXtended Investigation Mission to comet 103P/Hartley 2 and the New Horizons mission to Pluto and Co-Investigator of the New Horizons Kuiper Belt Extended Mission to Arrokoth (2014 MU69). Her ultimate goal is to improve our understanding of the primordial solar nebula and the accretion processes that led to the formation of the planets.

Affiliation: Southwest Research Institute
Contact: sprotopapa @


Michael C. McCarthy (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) ['2018 - 2021]

Dr. Michael C. McCarthy received a BSc in Chemistry at the University of Alaska, and a PhD in physical chemistry from MIT in 1992 with Robert W. Field.  He then moved to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) as a Center Fellow with Patrick Thaddeus.  He has remained at the CfA as a member of the tenured scientist staff, first as the Yoram Avni Distinguished Research Astronomer.  In 2014 he was appointed Associate Director, and in this capacity oversees the Atomic & Molecular Physics Division.  He has been the recipient of a number of fellowships and awards, including the American Physical Society Fellowship (2012) and the International Barbara Mez-Starck Prize (2016). His research lies primarily in the area of high-resolution rotational spectroscopy of highly reactive molecules of astronomical and chemical interest. This research program has resulted in the astronomical detection of a significant number of non-terrestrial molecules generally unknown or unfamiliar on Earth; a notable highlight of this work is the detection of molecular anions in space.

Affiliation: Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
Contact: mmccarthy @


Kenneth M. Nollett (San Diego State University) [2018 - 2021]

Dr. Kenneth Nollett received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Chicago in 2000.  He went on to postdoctoral positions at the California Institute of Technology and the University of Washington before serving nine years on the scientific staff of Argonne National Laboratory.  He held visiting positions at Ohio University and the University of South Carolina, and he has been an Assistant Professor at San Diego State University since 2015.  Dr. Nollett is a theoretical physicist whose research spans the interface between nuclear physics, astrophysics, and cosmology.  His work centers mainly on the physics of light atomic nuclei, both in astrophysical settings and as probes of the strong and weak nuclear forces.  Particular interests include Big Bang nucleosynthesis, ab initio models of nuclear reactions (where all the neutrons and protons are kept as independent degrees of freedom), and the analysis of nuclear reaction data (including error propagation) for astrophysical applications.  

Affiliation: San Diego State University
Contact: kenneth.nollett @


Ella Sciamma-O'Brien (NASA Ames Research Center) [2017 - 2020]

Dr. Ella Sciamma-O'Brien is a Research Space Scientist at NASA Ames Research Center. She is a member of the Laboratory Astrophysics and Astrochemistry group within the Space Science and Astrobiology Division. After receiving a PhD in Plasma Physics and Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 2007, working on plasma propulsion systems, Dr Sciemma-O'Brien shifted her focus to laboratory astrophysics and planetary science. She has been conducting experimental research at NASA Ames since 2011, using the COsmic SImulation Chamber (COSmIC) to simulate the complex atmospheric chemistry on Titan, Saturn's largest moon, and the formation of cosmic grains in the circumstellar outflow of carbon stars. She has been characterizing both the gas phase (in situ mass spectrometry) and solid phase (scanning electron microscopy, mass spectrometry, IR spectroscopy) formed in COSmIC. In recent years, she has developed a new laboratory optical constant facility at NASA Ames that will allow the determination of critical optical constants from visible to Far Infrared of various solid materials relevant to planetary science and astrophysical applications. Her research supports NASA missions such as Cassini, New Horizons, SOFIA and soon Dragonfly and JWST.

Affiliation: NASA Ames Research Center
Contact: ella.m.sciammaobrien @


Artemis Spyrou (Michigan State University) [2017 - 2020]

Dr. Artemis Spyrou is a Professor of Physics at Michigan State University (MSU). She obtained her Ph.D. in 2007 from the National Technical University of Athens in Greece and has been at MSU ever since. She served as the Associate Director of Education and Outreach at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams for four years. Her research focuses on nuclear physics experiments that are important for understanding astrophysical processes.

Affiliation: National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory and Department of Physics and Astronomy, Michigan State University
Contact: spyrou @