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Kate Napier


Topic: Gravitational Lensing and Quasars

Advisor: Keren Sharon


Her Story

Kate Napier is an Astrophysics Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Astronomy. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Kate completed her undergraduate studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology where she studied physics with a concentration in astrophysics.

Kate chose the University of Michigan for her graduate studies because she was impressed by the breadth of research that is being done here and the opportunities that are given to students to utilize the telescopes, like Magellan. She also found the environment at the University to be welcoming and supportive of different backgrounds and interests.

“I chose Michigan because the environment is very supportive of the students,” Kate said. “My value of having a place that gives everyone an equal seat at the table is very represented here.”

Her Interests

Kate is most interested in observational extragalactic astronomy, particularly strong gravitational lensing. She loves how strong gravitational lensing allows us to learn more about galaxy clusters as well as the distant universe.  Kate enjoys working with data from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and now, JWST.

Kate also loves observing with the Magellan Telescopes.  During her time at Michigan, Kate has gained expertise in using many of the Magellan Telescopes’ instruments, including LDSS3, IMACS, FIRE, and FourStar.  She and her collaborators use the Magellan Telescopes to discover and spectroscopically confirm quasars strongly lensed by galaxy clusters.  These systems enable a wide range of astrophysical and cosmological studies, including an independent way to measure the current expansion rate of the Universe, which Kate has done.

Kate also enjoys learning about space mission design.  In addition to taking courses in space engineering, Kate completed one of NASA JPL’s Mission Design Schools.  Kate hopes to one day work on space missions in addition to being an astrophysics researcher.

Her Key Mentors

Throughout her studies, there have been many key mentors who have influenced Kate and encouraged her to pursue her interests.

  • Dr. Yvonne Pendleton – Dr. Pendleton worked at NASA Ames and has been Kate’s mentor since early in her college career. Kate spent two summers working at NASA Ames in opportunities that Dr. Pendleton helped to connect her with.
  • Ms. Valerie Kennedy – Ms. Kennedy was Kate’s 5th grade math teacher. At such a young age it was important for Kate to have such a strong female role model in math because math was her favorite subject in school.
  • Dr. Mary Beth Wilhelm – Dr. Wilhelm is an early career scientist at NASA Ames who discovered water on Mars in her early 20’s. She has been a great mentor to Kate and provided excellent advice.
  • Dr. Deirdre Shoemaker – Dr. Shoemaker was one of Kate’s professors at Georgia Tech and her undergraduate research advisor. Dr. Shoemaker was instrumental in providing Kate with inspiring opportunities for research.
  • Dr. Diane Wooden – As an undergraduate, Kate enjoyed spending two summers with Dr. Wooden researching near-Earth asteroids at NASA Ames. Her support of young scientists is a true gift.  

Her Advice to Future Astronomy Students

One challenge in the field of astronomy is having the discipline to learn the established tools and techniques while also having the imagination and curiosity to put forth solutions to new problems. The field of astronomy often requires taking risks and challenging yourself. For that reason, Kate has the following advice for future students:

“One of the biggest things I have learned in college and graduate school is that there is a lot of value in plan B,” said Kate. “What you had in mind as the best possible solution may not be the best possible solution. Be open minded to try new things and don’t be discouraged if you fail. Some of the greatest advancements in science were made by people who were willing to take a risk and not remain complacent in their thinking.”

What's Next for Kate?

Kate’s dream to become an astronaut is something that she has held on to since she was little. Her current plan is to complete her postdoctoral studies, work on astrophysics research and missions, and eventually apply to the NASA Astronaut Corps with the dream of possibly going to Mars one day.