Research Interests:I study star formation in extreme environments such as in the cores of massive (>10^4 solar masses) star clusters and around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. These are ideal targets for understanding whether environment changes the star formation process and changes the resulting distribution of stellar masses. This initial mass function is a fundamental parameter for many areas of astrophysics.
These extreme environments require specialized astronomical instruments that provide the highest spatial resolution at infrared wavelengths. I use laser-guide star adaptive optics (AO) to obtain high-precision astrometry (~0.2 mas precision), photometry and spectroscopy. I also work to develope science requirements for a number of new AO instruments including IRIS and IRMOS for the Thirty Meter Telescope. I am the co-chair of the TMT International Science Development Team on the Formation of Stars and Planets. I am the Project Scientist for the 'imaka project, which will develope a very wide-field AO demonstrator on University of Hawaii's 2.2 m telescope on Mauna Kea.
I am generally interested in high-mass star and cluster formation, galactic centers, stellar dynamics, intermediate and supermassive black holes, high-angular resolution imaging and spectroscopy, adaptive optics, and astrometry.
I conducted my Ph.D. work with Prof. Andrea Ghez on studies of star formation at the Galactic Center. The center of the Milky Way harbors a supermassive black hole (SMBH) and a cluster of apparently young, massive stars. The presence of the SMBH and the harsh surrounding environment make the origin of these young, massive stars something of a puzzle. I was primarily focused on looking for observational clues to the origins of these young stars. For more information, see
As an undergraduate at MIT, I worked with Prof. Victoria Kaspi studying Anomalous X-ray Pulsars using Rossi XTE and Gamma-Ray Pulsars using EGRET. Here are a few publications (under my maiden name: Lackey).
Education and Outreach
I am a contributing member and co-founder of the AstroBetter website (blog and wiki). The purpose of this site is to build a collective knowledge base of best practices and tools for professional astronomers and astronomers in training.
For a complete description of my education and outreach experience; please see my CV.