The tomb raider of exoplanet research
Griffith University alumnus and NASA research scientist
Dr Jessie Christiansen
Dr Jessie Christiansen’s thirst for planet discovery started early, blossoming when she was given her first telescope. An amateur astronomer in high school Dr Christiansen had no idea her passion for star gazing would lead to a career at NASA.
“I didn’t know you could get paid to do this job. As soon as I realised it was an actual career path, I was really excited,” she said.
Dr Christiansen has worked at NASA for eight years and spends her days looking for exoplanets (planets around other stars). She has published multiple exoplanet discoveries and co-authored discoveries on thousands more.
Recently, her focus has turned to new data coming from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, a project that started more than a decade earlier.
“I love discovery and finding new things. I love being the first person to look at the data and go, there it is, there’s a new planet, or planet like system or earth like planet.” she said.
A bright star in the alumni community, Dr Christiansen was named Griffith University’s Outstanding Young Alumnus Award winner 2018.
Dr Christiansen said her time at Griffith gave her a strong foundation in science and research.
“Doing the Advanced Studies extension of the Bachelor of Science at Griffith was such an amazing opportunity to do research in a variety of labs and disciplines – I moved atoms around, I fired proton beams and I modelled the interiors of stars.” she said.
“I experienced the highs and lows of research and saw what worked and what didn’t. I had access to all these different toys in different labs and really fell in love with science and research. I’m so lucky that I get to keep doing that every day.”
Caltech recognised Christiansen recently with NASA’s Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal, a high honour awarded for a scientist’s ‘unusually significant engineering contributions’.