Brinson Prize Fellowship Program

Brinson Prize Fellowships are awarded to top U.S. research institutions to support early-career astrophysicists and cosmologists who are committed to chasing bold ideas with creative, nimble, and innovative research.

Brinson Postdoctoral and Prize Fellowship Opportunities

Rapid advances and new technology are propelling science in the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology at unprecedented rates, posing thrilling possibilities for understanding some of the greatest cosmic mysteries.

Established in 2021, the Brinson Prize Fellowship Program supports ambitious research in observational cosmology, with a focus on projects that complement and capitalize on the latest space science, including topics such as the first stars, the cosmic distance scale, and the development of large-scale structure. This Program is administered as a collaboration between the Foundation and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).

Information on this Fellowship opportunity, including: participating U.S. host institutions, support guidelines, 2023-2024 dates and deadlines, and a link to the application portal can be found at: Brinson Prize Fellowship Program

Current Brinson Prize Fellows

Amin Aminaei

Ph.D., Communication Systems, Lancaster University, UK

Host Institution: University of California, Davis, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Year Awarded: 2022

Amin Aminaei has a background in radio-frequency engineering and astronomy. Radio-frequency engineering is a subset of electronic engineering involving the application of transmission line, waveguide, antenna and electromagnetic field principles to the design and application of devices that produce or utilize signals within the radio band. As a Brinson Prize Fellow, Aminaei applies this unique expertise to the Dark E-field Radio experiment, specially designed by Tony Tyson to detect the electromagnetic signals of the dark photons, one of the primary candidates for dark matter. The search for electromagnetic signals in the experiment covers the MHz and GHz (microwave) frequency spectrum. In this position, Aminaei will mainly be working on the lab setup for the microwave band. An initial paper on the details of the experiment was published in 2021.  Prior to this Fellowship position, Aminaei worked at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) where he was a team member of the SPICA/SAFARI (a mission concept for the Space Infrared Telescope for Cosmology and Astrophysics). From 2016-2018, while at the University of Oxford, UK, he contributed to the development of digital systems for the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio telescope to be built in Australia and South Africa. Aminaei held a postdoctoral and technical engineer position at Radboud University in the Netherlands from 2009-2015 where he helped develop and install the Auger Engineering Radio Array (AERA) that sits in the field of Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina. AERA detects the radio emission of extensive air shower caused by ultra-high energy cosmic rays (UHECR). At Radboud he was also a team member responsible for developing the Lunar Radio eXplorer (LRX, Phase-A study), an instrument planned for the ESA lunar mission for radio astronomy on the Moon’s surface.  In 2020, Aminaei was awarded 3rd prize for the NASA Ideation Challenge for designing a miniature ultra-wideband Ground Penetrating Radar for the lunar Artemis Program.

Juliana Cherston

Ph.D., Aerospace Sensor Systems, MIT Media Lab

Host Institution: Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Year Awarded: 2023

Juliana Cherston received a BA in Physics from Harvard University, followed by a doctoral degree at the MIT Media Lab. Her Ph.D. on interstellar dust metrology turns spacecraft thermal blankets into large field-of-view cosmic dust detectors. By measuring the momentum, and eventually the composition, of incident dust, these sensors might enable searches for exotic dust populations of scientific intrigue. Relevant targets include remnant grains from a near-Earth Supernova explosion, or grains that shed light on the propagation of life through the galaxy. Featuring system design using R&D-stage fiber sensors and ground calibration at dust accelerator facilities, Cherston’s Ph.D. work culminated in the launch of an active sensor payload to the exterior walls of the International Space Station, and first prize in the Tech Briefs design competition for aerospace systems. During the term of her Brinson Prize Fellowship at the Harvard CfA, Cherston will delve into quantum sensors and their potential to further enrich space-based measurements of astrophysical interest, with potential for collaboration across multiple institutes. This new chapter will feed her expertise in bridging advanced, and sometimes unconventional, technology into fundamental science.

Anirudh (Ani) Chiti

Ph.D., Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Host Institution: University of Chicago, Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics (KICP)

Year Awarded: 2021

Ani Chiti studies how the earliest stars and galaxies evolved in the first billion years of the universe. He performs this research by identifying, mapping and investigating the chemical composition of nearby ancient stars and galaxies, in an approach known as Galactic Archaeology. In his PhD work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chiti developed imaging analyses that led to an order-of-magnitude increase in the efficiency of identifying the most ancient stars. This enabled several pioneering studies, including providing the first direct evidence that the first galaxies formed in massive, extended distributions of an enigmatic substance known as dark matter. As a Brinson Prize Fellow at KICP, Chiti is scaling these analysis techniques for the next generation of digital sky surveys to build an unprecedented view of the ancient Milky Way, in addition to immediate projects that will unveil the interplay between dark matter, the first supernovae and the earliest galaxy mergers in shaping the first galaxies.

Maren Cosens

Ph.D., Physics, University of California, San Diego

Host Institution: Carnegie Institution for Science, Carnegie Observatories Instrumentation Program

Year Awarded: 2022

Maren Cosens anticipates completing her Ph.D. in the Physics Department at the University of California, San Diego by July 2022.  Her work there has been two-fold, with aspects of both observational astrophysics and the development of new instrumentation. Cosens’ observational research has been focused on using some of the largest ground-based telescopes in the world to study the properties of star-forming regions and the interplay between those regions and the galaxies in which they form. Namely, the factors that influence the way in which these regions develop, and the impact of the energy imparted to the galaxy through processes known as “feedback”. In addition to her observational research, she has also worked extensively on the development of new instruments, primarily working on the mechanical design for a next generation imager and an integral field spectrograph, Liger, for the W.M. Keck Observatory which will provide improvements in resolution and field-of-view, over existing instruments. During the term of her Brinson Prize Fellowship in Astronomical Instrumentation at the Carnegie Observatories she has continued working in both these areas of research, working on the development of the Magellan Infrared Multi-Object Spectrograph (MIRMOS), as well as utilizing the vast observational resources at Carnegie to expand her studies of star-forming regions to a broader range of environments.

Ryan French

Ph.D., Solar Physics, UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory

Host Institution: Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), National Solar Observatory (NSO)

Year Awarded: 2022

Ryan French’s research uses telescopes on the ground and in space to investigate explosive events on the Sun called solar flares. French completed his Ph.D. in Solar Physics at the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory. While completing his degree, he was awarded the prestigious Newkirk Fellowship, funding his multiple productive science visits to the NCAR High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colorado. As a Brinson Prize Fellow at the National Solar Observatory, French is diving deeper into this field using the next-generation facilities of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) and the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter, both of which began science operations in early 2022. In addition to his scientific work, French is a veteran science communicator, with a decade of experience presenting science and astronomy to a diverse range of audiences, most recently as an Astronomy Presenter at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.  He has also educated wider audiences through interviews on BBC World News and BBC Radio 2.

Daniel Gilman

Ph.D., Physics, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Postdoctoral Scholar, University of Toronto

Schmidt AI in Science Fellow, University of Toronto

Host Institution: University of Chicago, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics

Year Awarded: 2023

Daniel Gilman strives to understand the nature of dark matter, an enigmatic substance of unknown origin and particle properties. The force of gravity mediates the only known connection between dark matter and the small fraction of the Universe we can observe and interact with. In his research, Gilman uses the gravitational connection between light and dark matter through an effect called gravitational lensing in which light is deflected by gravitational fields. In a particular case referred to as strong lensing, a foreground galaxy and the dark matter surrounding it bend light from a distant background source in such a way that the source becomes highly magnified and multiply imaged. As a Ph.D. student at UCLA, Gilman led the development of an analysis framework to test theories of dark matter by simulating a particular kind of strong lens system referred to as a quadruply-imaged quasar. As a postdoc at the University of Toronto, he and his collaborators expanded this analysis pipeline to simulate how strong lenses would appear in a variety of dark matter theories with unique particle physics predictions. As a Brinson Prize Fellow at the University of Chicago, Gilman plans to refine the analysis techniques he developed to incorporate additional information from spectacular, highly-magnified lensed arcs that often encircle the main deflector in a strong lens system. Combining the new analysis techniques with forthcoming data from the James Webb Space Telescope, Gilman will perform stringent tests of the concordance cosmological model of cold dark matter and explore alternative hypotheses for the nature of dark matter that, if confirmed, would overthrow cold dark matter and require new physics.

Matthew Hosek

Ph.D., Astronomy, Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawai’I at Manoa

Host Institution: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA),
Galactic Center Group (GCG)

Year Awarded: 2022

Matt Hosek is currently an astronomy postdoc with the Galactic Center Group at UCLA. He completed his Ph.D. in 2018 at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa under the direction of Professor Jessica Lu. His research focuses on the formation and dynamics of stars near the center of our Galaxy. As a Brinson Prize Fellow, Hosek uses data from the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes to develop a new reference frame to measure the orbits of stars near the Galactic Center with improved precision and accuracy. This will enable tests of General Relativity and probe the distribution of matter near the central supermassive black hole. He is also measuring the masses of stars in two young star clusters in the region in order to evaluate how the extreme environment near the Galactic Center impacts the physics of star formation.

Yuya Kusuki

Ph.D., Physics, Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics, Kyoto University

Host Institution:  California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Institute for Quantum Information and Matter (IQIM)

Year Awarded: 2021

As a Brinson Fellow, Yuya Kusuki developed interdisciplinary approaches to study the intersections of quantum information, quantum many-body systems, and quantum gravity. For example, he applied techniques in quantum many-body systems (i.e., conformal bootstrap) to study quantum gravity – specifically, the physics of branes (i.e., membrane-like objects extended from particles into higher dimensions). This is the first attempt to apply such techniques to branes and has not only elucidated standing mysteries about the physics of branes but has also paved the way for new approaches to study the phenomenon. While conventional wisdom asserts that it is not generally useful to conversely apply techniques from quantum gravity to solve problems in quantum many-body systems, Kusuki has demonstrated this approach can aid in the study of interfaces. Indeed, through this interdisciplinary approach, it was first discovered that conformal interfaces never increase quantum correlation. Since real materials invariably contain interfaces, this result will be significant in the field of condensed matter physics. Additionally, through interdisciplinary approaches, Kusuki has addressed issues across several fields, including studies on efficient numerical simulation algorithms in finite temperature systems, studies on topological phases using multi-partite quantum correlation measures, and studies on the effect of symmetry on quantum correlations. Now, as an Associate Professor at Kyushu University, Kusuki will utilize the insights gained from the above research towards the development of more systematic techniques/understandings in the boundary areas of quantum information, quantum many-body systems, and quantum gravity.

Justin Myles

Ph.D., Physics, Stanford University (expected August 2023)

Host Institution: Princeton University, Department of Astrophysical Sciences

Year Awarded: 2023

Justin Myles studies observations of galaxies and clusters of galaxies to test models of the past and future development of the Universe. As an observer, Myles combines multiple forms of data ranging from visible light to X-rays to better understand galaxies and the hot clouds of gas they inhabit. In his Ph. D. work at Stanford University, he developed ways to use spectroscopic observations of galaxies to improve measurements of weak gravitational lensing and of galaxy clusters. As a Brinson Prize Fellow, Myles will be exploring questions including, “How can we achieve competitive precision on cosmological parameters from galaxy clusters identified in imaging surveys?” “How can we design efficient follow-up observing campaigns to maximize the utility of large cosmology surveys?” and most broadly, “How can we improve the modeling of galaxy survey data?” His research sits at the interface of survey astronomy based on observations of large swaths of the sky and designing targeted observations to resolve challenges that emerge from survey data.

Stella Ocker

Ph.D., Astronomy, Cornell University (expected August 2023)

Host Institution: Carnegie Institution for Science-California Institute of Technology

Year Awarded: 2023

Stella Ocker studies the diffuse gas between stars and galaxies, the interstellar and intergalactic media that fuel galaxy and star formation. She works to map the distribution of cosmic gas extending all the way from the solar neighborhood to distant galaxies. As a PhD Student at Cornell University, Ocker was a Guest Investigator on the Voyager Interstellar Mission, where she discovered a new plasma wave signature that has enabled high-resolution density mapping of the very local interstellar medium. She has also used distant radio sources, including neutron stars and fast radio bursts, to probe cosmic gas in a wide range of astrophysical environments. As a Brinson Prize Fellow at Carnegie Observatories and Caltech, Ocker will synthesize state-of-the-art optical and radio surveys, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey V and the Deep Synoptic Array, to build a distance ladder for using fast radio bursts as probes of the universe’s large-scale structure. Ocker also continues to be a member of the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves, which uses pulsar timing to search for gravitational waves from supermassive black holes.

David Setton

Ph.D., Physics, University of Pittsburgh (expected August 2023)

Host Institution: Princeton University, Department of Astrophysical Sciences

Year Awarded: 2023

David Setton’s research focuses on constraining the physical process that causes the most massive galaxies in the Universe to stop making new stars. He does this by looking to great distances with some of the world’s largest observatories to study galaxies right after they finished their last epoch of star formation, catching them in the act of “quenching.” David uses multi-wavelength observing facilities to study the physical properties of the stars, gas, and supermassive black holes in these galaxies. In his Ph.D. work at the University of Pittsburgh, David measured the structures of “post-starburst” galaxies from the SQuIGGLE sample and used spectra from the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument Survey to trace the cosmic evolution in the fraction of quenching galaxies. As a Brinson Prize Fellow at Princeton University, David will extend this work using novel samples from the Prime Focus Spectrograph Survey, using the novel instrument on the Subaru telescope to identify and characterize the population of quenching galaxies during the peak of the star formation history of the Universe.

Brianna Zawadzki

Ph.D., Astronomy & Astrophysics, Pennsylvania State University (expected August 2023)

Host Institution: Wesleyan University

Year Awarded: 2023

Brianna Zawadzki uses radio interferometers to study the planet-forming environments around stars other than the Sun. She completed her Ph.D. in Astronomy & Astrophysics at Pennsylvania State University in 2023, where she used simulations, observations, and machine learning techniques to better characterize disks of gas and dust in the early stages of planet formation. As a Brinson Prize Fellow at Wesleyan University, Zawadzki will analyze new observations of debris disks from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to search for signs of planets and probe the diverse morphologies of these disks. She will also continue developing novel, machine learning based imaging techniques to aid in the acquisition of ultra high resolution interferometric images. This work will help astronomers understand how planets form in greater detail than ever, complementing the thousands of recent exoplanet detections from missions like Kepler and TESS. In addition to her research, Zawadzki enjoys communicating science to the general public through a wide range of outreach events; she spent several years serving as a local organizer of Astronomy on Tap, an organization which brings public astronomy talks to restaurants and breweries, and frequently contributes to a variety of other science events sponsored by universities and public libraries.