About Me

Scientists are not one-dimensional

If you're only interested in my research/work then check out this section

I. Puerto Rico, Family

I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico an only child to 2 very loving, self-sacrificing parents. From my childhood I can recall many things, but I particularly rememeber a car ride when I was very young and I asked my parents why the sky was blue. My mom and dad decided to try and explain Rayleigh scattering to me and although I understood barely anything they said, it made me feel like there was so much more left for me to learn and I found that exciting. It is that wonder, that ambition to learn more, that has propelled me to where I am today. Yet, this also meant that I would end up moving far away from my island. As a Puertorican, it is very difficult to move away from the island. There isn't a day when I don't miss the food, the music, the beach, Viejo San Juan, the people... ya hasta los tapones en la Baldorioty me hacen falta! But I also could not be more happy to be carrying my island's name with pride as I accomplish everything I've set out to do. People who know me know I take any opportunity to show off my culture, in the end yo soy Boricua aunque naciera en la luna y la mancha de plátano nadie me la quita!

II. Performance Arts

If there is something I've been involved throughout my whole life and that I'm also passionate about is dancing, singing, and acting. I trained in classical ballet for 14 years, jazz and contemporary for 10 years, and for the past 4 years have been learning hip hop after I joined an all-styles dance crew called The Superlative. I've been classically trained in singing for several years. I participated and competed for what we call 'oratoria' back at home (forensics speech competitions), as well as participated in several acting training programs including a scolarship to go to LA to work with some notable talent agents. I was part of the cast for two plays while at Villanova, and was also casted for a musical at GSFC (although it had to be cancelled due to the current global pandemic). Performing arts have always been my solace and my escape when I'm overwhelmed with emotions, and they have always formed a huge part of my life and consequently a part of who I am today. I could not imagine a world where I don't continue to sing, to dance, to act...

I played Pfc. Lounden Downey in Villanova Student Theatre's A Few Good Men

III. Favorites

Favorite Foods : coconut breaded chicken, queso frito
Favorite Drinks : water, black russian, piña colada
Favorite Dessert : tembleque
Favorite Song : El Wanabi by Fiel a la Vega
Favorite Artist : Sleeping at Last
Favorite animals : thresher sharks and seals
Favorite videogame : Fallout 4
Favorite videogame console : Gamecube
Favorite place traveled : Patagonia, Chile

Favorite Fish ?????? : Arapaima

Arapaima!!!

Finally, if you've read this far , then you've earned a picture of Rover:

Research

NASA ADS LINK TO AUTHOR:

ADS LINK

Education:

I graduated from Villanova University with a B.S. in Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences, a minor in Physics, and a minor in Communications. I am currently a first year graduate student of Astronomy at University of Maryland, College Park

Research Interests:

As a first year graduate student, I am still looking for projects/teams to work on. Yet my biggest interest lies in astrobiology. There are 3 questions that I think would make for some extremely interesting research:

  • How do we constrain models for planetary habitability and life detection based on what we, in the immediate future, will be able to observe and measure? (planet candidacy, synthetic modeling, current missions)
  • What could we consider a definite sign of life when observing exoplanets? What could we consider a definite sign of life when we're able to conduct both remote and in situ work (Solar System)?
  • Can we incorporate different chemical models of life to our remote sensing efforts? (This would, of course, involve actually modeling/ solidifying theories for different chemical forms of life which I also find interesting and I think would make space for some cool interdisciplinary collaborations)
In terms of techniques: I like spectroscopy and modeling. I have a lot of experience in computer modeling and I think it would be really interesting to finally work in theoretical/modeling efforts for astrobiological research goals. I'd love to have a chance to do both modeling and work with spectroscopic data.

Research Background and Skils:

For a more technical breakdown of my previous research check out my CV :)

I began my research path wanting to develop better programming skills. In comparison to a lot of my classmates in my undergraduate institution, I had absolutely no experience with programming. Because of this, I reached out to a professor in the department about wanting more hands-on experience with programming in order to develop my skills. That professor ended up being my first research mentor. I worked on creating a data-entry interface, as well as an html frontend website for an eclipsing binary physical card catalog that is stored at Villanova University. The card catalog is written by many different authors which made an automated process of data entry (say, using machine learning) not viable. My challenge was to develop a form of data entry (and an interface for it) that made the digitizing of the catalog easier. My work included: web development both for data-entry and frontend use (using the python-based Django interface) and scripting ways of making the data entry interface easy and fast to use.

My second project came about while taking an astrobiology course, which sparked my interest in astrobiology research as a whole. During said class, we were assigned a project that not only was fun but ended up becoming a year-long project for me. The project consisted of experimenting with growing plants on Martian regolith simulant. The project expanded to include monitoring of plant health and outside sources of stress (daily temperature, humidity measurements); testing of several methods to aerate the regolith (since it was too clay like for a lot of non-shallow rooted plants); testing the survival of worms in regolith simulant as a source of possible organics; and we even participated in a proposal to study the ability of lythophytes to breakdown rocky regoltih as a possible way to help the process of growing plants in a future Mars colony. The project, although highly qualitative, was extensive and received a lot of media attention. This media attention allowed me to also frame the project for educational, outreach, and teaching purposes, making it an extremely fun and versatile project.

In Spring of 2018 I received the most exciting news of my life: I was going to intern at NASA that Summer with the Undergraduate Research Asocciates in Astrobiology program at Goddard Spaceflight Center (GSFC)! This had been a dream of mine since I was around five years old and watching NASA TV saying I wanted to work at NASA one day. And so I did. That Summer, I participated in the program and not only got to meet so many wonderful people that opened many doors for me, but also I worked on a very exciting project. sbpy is an astropy-affiliated python package for the analysis and reduction of cometary data that is funded by a NASA PDART grant, and that summer I had the chance to work with the sbpy team developing a module for extracting production rates from cometary spectral data. As part of my work, I ended up building an astroquery module for the JPL Molecular Spectral catalog, which was included in the then-current version of astroquery and consequently made me an author in said version's astroquery paper. After months working on the production rate module, my internship at GSFC was over, but I was offered by the then PI of the sbpy project to stay on the team, so I worked with the sbpy team for another year. This culminated in my Summer 2019 position at Lowell Observatory, where I worked both with the sbpy project, and also with efforts automizing Lowell's Titan Monitoring telescope, a 20-inch planewave CDK, which resulted in a AAS Reseach Notes publication.

Fall of 2018 - Spring of 2019 I worked on a project that lead to my first, first-authored publication: "FUSE and IUE Spectroscopy of the Prototype Dwarf Nova ER Ursa Majoris during Quiescence". This project was very exciting for me because it started as a class requirement and after seeing my work, my professor thought it was good enough to publish, and so we published it in the Astronomical Journal. For this project, I used de-reddened FUSE and IUE spectra along with Gaia parallax to revisit and extract new information about the dwarf nova ER Ursae Majoris and its current evolutionary stage. ER Ursae Majoris is the prototype star for a subset of SU UMa-type dwarf novae characterized by short cycle times between outbursts, high outburst frequency, and negative superhumps. We fit both the FUSE and IUE data with accretion disk and photosphere models to find optimal inclination angles, white dwarf mass, and accretion rates. The accretion rates were well within what was expected of a dwarf nova from the disk instability model. What made this study unique was the use of UV data during quiescence instead of outburst, as well as the use of Gaia parallaxes as a way of constraining models.

Most recently, I had the opportunity to work this entire past year at GSFC again! This time, I worked with a different team, the Planetary Spectrum Generator ( PSG ) team. I worked on developing methods for exoplanetary retrievals in order to apply them to PSG. Specifically, I developed a grid-based forward model algorithm (in C) as well as well as tested various different parameter space samplers for both efficiency and accuracy. In the end, I tested two different, published, grids (one for hot jupiters and the other for rocky exoplanets ) against the algorithm, as well as completed retrievals with synthetic data to test the accuracy of the different parameter space sampling methods we chose to study. This project was presented as a directorate-wide presentation at GSFC, and a YouTube link to the presentation can be found here

Lastly, I must mention a listed n-author publication in my CV that might seem surprising: "Technological and Mediated Identity in American Multisite Churches". Although I do not offer an in depth description of this project in my CV, this project was a semester-long research project for which I was invited to collaborate on the publication by my professor. This was due to my satisfactory work on the class project during the semester. The course, called "Religion and Media", was taught by a visiting research faculty in the Communication Department. I took the class as part of my requirements for my communication minor, and during said class we had to work on a case-study project surrounding the online vs. offline performances of multimedia churches. This included doing extensive background research on a specific local multimedia church (in my case it was EPIC of Philadelphia) and culminated with a personal visit to a service of said church. We then were asked to write up the entirety of the research we did that semester, and in the end my professor ended up contacting me asking if I wanted to be part of the paper. It was an extremely interesting case study and I learned a lot from it and from working with my professor. I am particularly proud of this project because it was not in my comfort zone, it didn't pertain to the field I work in everyday, but I still put a lot of work into that project and that work paid off. It also shows that when I did my minor in communication I really did have interest in the field, and ultimately what I learned from the field of communication still forms a large part of how I rationalize science communication and outreach. I particularly enjoy studying science communication from an angle of public relations, and I'm very happy about the fact that I had the opportunity to publish within the field of communication too.

As is clear, my research background has been very diverse and interesting, therefore, along the way I have collected a set of skills that I find extremely valuable. I have developed extensive capability in computer modeling with several different programming languages, I have a lot of experience working with observational data, plenty of knowledge about a broad set of topics in the field of astronomy, intellectual engagement on issues of science communication; but what I hope stands out the most is both my passion and determination as a researcher. I never lose sight of the fact that I currently am where I dreamed myself to be years ago, and I never stop considering myself so lucky to have the chance to work doing what I love and enjoy. In the end, more than anything, I'd love to see a world that is inspired by curiosity and wonder the same way I am.

Community

Teaching:

I've had the chance to work as a TA both as an undergraduate student, and now with a bit more responsibilities as a graduate student. I currently teach 2 lab sections and 1 hour-long discussion section. Aside from the TAships I've had, I also volunteer with the GSMI mentoring program . Matched through this program, I'm now mentoring a student through the graduate school application process. Aside from the GSMI mentoring, it is also worth noting that I rewrote the Red Thumbs Martian Garden experiment as an instruction lab manual for the purposes of reproducing the experiment educationally. This rewritten lab manual included ways on how to adapt the project for different educational levels. I rewrote this as a favor to a high school teacher who approached me during AAS about the project (I was presenting the project with an educational spin). I also recall 2 community college professors and 3 other high school teachers to whom I have forwarded the manual to.

Outreach and Volunteering:

From a theoretical standpoint, I'm very interested in approaching science communication as a public relations issue. Yet, in practice I personally tend to gravitate towards a hands-on and personalized approach, simply because I like forming personal bonds with people. My focus often has been dedicated to programs that interact directly and personally with the public. Some examples of programs I have successfully volunteered for and participated in are:

  • All Hands-On Science : a program that ran at Villanova University for various years. Every Friday we would visit the Wissahikon Boys and Girls CLub to work on hands-on science experiments with the kids in order to get them excited about science as a subject and future career path. Working with those kids was so fun and also very eye opening to the fact that from a very young age, many of these kids already have the erroneous idea in their heads that they're 'not smart enough' to do science. This program was made in hopes we could help alleviate some of those insecurities by showing them hands-on approaches to science and making it fun for them.
  • Skype a Scientist : this program is dedicated to families, schools, and individuals that sign up and are interested in asking a scientist questions about something interesting or just chatting with a real scientist. One memorable class I met was from the Dominican Republic and I got to talk about what I do in Spanish, which was very very fun and not something I get to do everyday.
  • AbGradCon2022 Organizing Committee : AbGradCon is a conference designed by graduate students, for graduate students, and funded by NASA. Since astrobiology is an interdisciplinary field, this conference is dedicated to connecting graduate students who are enthusiastic about astrobiology, encouraging future collaboration, enthusiasm, and connections within the field.

Media:

As both a lifetime performer and also a communication minor, I can say that engaging with the media is always a fun experience for me. During my project with astrobotany on Martian regolith simulant, my mentor and I got to receive a lot of media attention. This included several interviews for magazines, blogs, etc. as well as some fun photoshoots. Some notable media engagements I've had include:

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