Brett M. Morris

Characterizing exoplanets and their host stars

I am a third year graduate student in the dual-title PhD Astronomy and Astrobiology Program at the University of Washington in Seattle. My research interests are focused on determining what exoplanets are made of. I work with ground and space-based observations to measure the compositions and structures of exoplanet atmospheres, planet masses, and properties of planet-hosting stars.

You can find my CV in PDF form here, or you can scroll down for an abridged web version.

Exoplanet Characterization

ARC 3.5m telescope

I work with Professor Eric Agol (UW) on characterizing exoplanet systems with transit timing variations with Kepler and ground-based observations from the ARC 3.5m telescope at Apache Point Observatory.

Keck Observatory

I also collaborate with Dr. Avi Mandell (NASA GSFC) on characterizing giant exoplanet atmospheres with transmission spectroscopy in the near-infrared using my own observations from Keck/MOSFIRE (PI Morris, 2014).

Ada Beale, Doug Branton

I founded and lead the Search for Planets Around post-Main Sequence stars (SPAMS) group at the University of Washington, an undergraduate effort to use small aperture ground-based telescopes to find transiting planets/debris orbiting white dwarfs at short periods.

Stars

We only know as much about an exoplanet as we know about its host star, which is why I collaborate with Professors Leslie Hebb (HWS), Suzanne Hawley (UW) and Dr. James Davenport (WWU) on Kepler observations of spotted host stars of transiting planets. Transits allow us to break degeneracies and locate star spots on the surface of the star with precision from photometry alone.

Astrobiology

As a dual-title PhD in astronomy and astrobiology, I am privileged to work with interdisciplinary scientists. For my astrobiology research rotation, I am developing a comprehensive data reduction and analysis pipeline with Professor Jody Deming (UW) on the Submersible Holographic Astrobiology Microscope with Ultraresolution.

I am learning to retrieve phase and intensity images from holographic microscopy and to develop analysis software scalable to high-throughput computing facilities. Soon we will use this pipeline to classify micron-scale organisms by their motility with machine learning techniques.

Code

Here's some open source software I wrote to make your day better:

  • astroplan: astropy-affiliated observation planning for astronomers
  • OSCAAR: Photometry for amateur astronomers
  • shampoo: digital holographic microscopy and life detection
  • @transitingnow: a Twitter Bot for exoplanet science outreach

...plus lots more contributions on GitHub!

Outreach

In 2016, I am a Pacific Science Center Science Communication Fellow, and co-founder/co-organizer of the popular Astronomy on Tap Seattle public astronomy talk series.

I am Academic Mentor and also a research mentor for the UW's Pre-MAP program for freshmen undergraduates with interests in astronomy who are traditionally underrepresented in astronomy. We set them up with (1) computer programming skills, (2) research skills, (3) a research project in their first quarter of their first year with attentive mentorship and peer support.

For fun (and for science!) I maintain a small army of Twitter Bots that do science outreach at all times while I do other things. The army consists of:

  • @planetTVguide: Accounting for light travel time between planets, it tells you when premiere TV broadcasts of historic shows reach known exoplanets in real time
  • @transitingnow: Demonstrating the vast number of transiting exoplanets with real-time tweets when each transiting exoplanet appears to pass in front of its star
  • @farawayplanets: If observers on distant planets had telescopes that could see what is happening on Earth and they looked right now, this is what they would see

In the press: the bots have gotten some attention lately from Popular Mechanics and Vocativ.