Astrophysicist Speaks to Grier Students

Our final One School, One Story: Hidden Figures event took place on Thursday, February 8, as we welcomed presenter Angie Wolfgang, a postdoc fellow in astrophysics from Penn State University. Teachers and students were fascinated to hear about her work searching for exoplanets (planets outside of the solar system). To date, she says, we’ve discovered roughly 5,000 exoplanets. Extrapolated, that means there are roughly two billion of them in the universe!
Questions that scientists like Angie are trying to answer include:
  • What is a typical planet?
  • Why are there so many planets out there larger than Earth, but smaller than Neptune?
  • How do planets form?
  • What are super-earths?
  • How can we tell if a planet has an atmosphere or life?
When asked by Grier students what inspired her to pursue a career in astrophysics, Angie responded that her deep love of sci-fi and math brought her into the field. She shared about her experiences at this past year’s Women in Astronomy Conference.

Angie also introduced some modern day Hidden Figures, although today’s women are not as hidden as they had been in the past! These women are quite famous for their work. Some of the astronomers who have inspired Angie include Dr. Jedidah Isler, who studies Super Massive Black Holes and Blazing Quasars (or Blazars).

Others, like Dr. Elisa Quintana, study Earth-like planets at NASA Goddard. Quintana was voted 2015 Scientist of the year. Professor Fabienne Bastien, from Penn State, studies the physics of stars and their variations. Bastien’s work is vital to the search for exoplanets because stars are always changing due to their own nature. It’s very hard to discern if the changes are just from the star doing its own thing or if the changes are from planets moving in front of them distorting their light. Professor Laura Lopez, who was awarded the Annie Jump Cannon award of 2016, studies the life of stars. Fun Fact: Annie Jump Cannon developed the classification system for stars in the late 1800s! A true Hidden Figure.

For more information about these amazing women in science go to:…/astronomy-in-color.h…

Dr. Jedidah Isler:…/jedidah_isler_how_i_fell_in_love_with…

Dr. Elisa Quintana:

Professor Fabienne Bastien:…/faculty-highlight-fa…

Professor Laura Lopez:

Angie Wolfgang:

Angie left the Grier audience with some powerful words of advice. She says life is about rising to meet challenges so that we can grow and learn and that there are two ways to approach learning: having a fixed mindset (where failures are to be discouraged and only perfection is acceptable) and having a growth mindset (where failures are seen as opportunities). Here at Grier, we encourage our #GrierGirls to see their potential and enjoy watching them grow to new heights! We thank Angie for sharing her story with us and look forward to hear more of her achievements.

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By C. Fernandes | Photo credit: R. Woolfrey
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