Rachel L. Smith, Ph.D.
Director, Astronomy & Space Observation Research Laboratory
Post-doc, Astrochemistry, California Institute of Technology, 2011
Ph.D., Astrochemistry/Cosmochemistry (formally, Geochemistry), University of California Los Angeles, 2011
M.S., Astrochemistry/Cosmochemistry (formally, Geochemistry), University of California Los Angeles, 2009
D.V.M., Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine, 1998
B.S., Cornell University, 1995
Dr. Rachel Smith on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, with the twin Keck Telescopes in the background.
Dr. Smith is an observational astronomer interested in answering questions related to how our solar system formed and how other solar systems evolve over time. The objects of Smith’s study are the forming stars outside our solar system; these protostars are at a stage of evolution that is analogous to our own sun when it was forming roughly 4½ billion years ago, and they are surrounded by gas filled with planet- and life-building molecules which astronomers can observe using powerful telescopes from Earth and space. Studying these forming stars and comparing them to data we have from our sun and meteorites (the oldest vestiges from the formation of our solar system) help to address the larger mystery of whether our solar system is unique in the Galaxy. Smith and her colleagues use large (8 to 10-meter) telescopes on mountains in Hawaii and Chile to observe carbon monoxide (CO), an important molecular reservoir for carbon and oxygen, and which is plentiful in the gas surrounding forming stars. Smith’s current interests are the precise interactions between the CO ice and gas in different types of star-forming regions. Her upcoming observations at the end of September, 2012, will take place at the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, where she will be observing the ice and gas surrounding protostars in a range of different environments. Her goals are to continue to observe a variety of protostellar molecules, and expand her studies to include collaborations in laboratories which create simulated interstellar environments.
Smith R. L., Pontoppidan K. M., Young E. D., Morris M. R., Herczeg G. J. and vanDishoeck E. F. Signatures of carbon isotope ice-gas partitioning toward solar-type protostars (The Astrophysical Journal, in revision).
Smith R. L., Pontoppidan K. M., Young E. D., Morris M. R. and van Dishoeck E. F. (2009) High-precision C17O, C18O and C16O measurements in young stellar objects: analogues for CO self-shielding in the early solar system. The Astrophysical Journal 701, 163-175.
Smith, R. L., Pontoppidan, K. M., Young, E. D., and Morris, M. R., 2011. Observational signatures of carbon isotope ice-gas fractionation towards solar-type Protostars. Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) Contribution 1608, 1281.
Smith, R. L., Pontoppidan, K. M., Young, E. D., and Morris, M. R., 2010. New12CO/13CO observations in young stellar objects and molecular clouds: implications for 12C/13C in the early solar nebula. Meteoritics & Planetary Science (Supplement), 45, No. 5381, A193.
Smith, R. L., Pontoppidan, K. M., and Herczeg, G. J., 2009. Observations of 12C/13C fractionation in embedded protostars using VLT-CRIRES. Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, Vol. 41, No. 422.05, 691.
Dr. Rachel Smith in front of the Keck II telescope dome.