2014 Destinations 2015 Destinations

Distinguished Lecturer Michelle Thaller

Dr. Michelle Thaller is a research scientist at the California Institute of Technology who divides her time between astronomical research and public education. Originally from Waukesha, Wisconsin, Michelle obtained a Bachelor's degree in astrophysics from Harvard University. Specializing in high-resolution velocity measurements of binary stars, her honors thesis laid some of the ground work for the recent detection of planets around other stars. In 1997, Michelle obtained a Ph.D. from Georgia State University. Michelle's dissertation work included the first-ever detection of a "stripped core sub-dwarf" (a star that has been almost completely stripped of its outer envelope by the gravitational pull of a companion star) as well as the discovery and characterization of the phenomenon of colliding stellar winds in several massive binary star systems.

During her research, Michelle has used both ground and space-based telescopes, including Kitt Peak National Observatory, Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories (in Australia), the International Ultraviolet Explorer, the Hubble Space Telescope, and ROSAT. She is currently a senior scientist on the Spitzer Space Telescope, a satellite that views the universe entirely through infrared, or "heat" light.

Michelle dedicates more than half her time to public education and outreach, and acts as one of the spokespeople for Spitzer and other NASA missions at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Michelle has been featured in numerous media programs, including three documentaries on NASA science that are playing at the National Air and Space Museum, an educational program about finding new planets that is playing at the Rose Center of the Museum of Natural History, and a video infrared demonstration showing at the Adler Planetarium and the Boston Museum of Science. She has appeared on PBS's Life and Times program, and has been featured on the Discovery Channel several times, as well as National Public Radio. Michelle has also given several high-profile lectures at JPL, including the distinguished Von Karman lecture three times. In print, Michelle has written features for Discovery and Mercury magazines, and is a nationally distributed columnist for the Christian Science Monitor.