About Me

Hello, I am Emily Whittaker (they/them) and I am a planetary scientist. I am currently a second year PhD student studying planetary science at UCLA under the guidance of Professor Jean-Luc Margot.

My scientific passions center around discovering and understanding small bodies within our Solar System, particularly with the goals of protecting Earth from dangerous impacts and understanding the origin of our Solar System and the wonderful life-filled planet we call Earth.

I am originally from Boone, North Carolina, a small mountain town home to Appalachian State University. I took two introductory astronomy classes there while still in high school, solidifying my interest in astronomy and my desire to pursue it as a career. During my undergraduate studies, my astronomy advisor Melissa Hayes-Gehrke encrouraged me to apply to internships all over the country, including an internship at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas. It was there that I first fell in love with asteroids, working with Dr. Patrick Taylor on techniques for measuring asteroid radii using single radar images. I was enchanted by images and models of asteroids like Bennu, strange little worlds occupying physical regimes unlike anywhere else in the solar system, leading to unique features like top shapes and sharp, dark rubble terrain, features we are just beginning to understand.

During my time at UCLA, I have completed a research project focused on understanding the asteroid diameter uncertainties that come with thermally modeling asteroids using only two infrared band observations with the WISE space telescope instead of four. The results of this project were recently published in the Planetary Science Journal. I was also able to complete a project started during my time at the University of Maryland focused on modeling the spectroscopic effects of various potential surfaces and atmospheres on exoplanet LHS 3844b in order to predict what JWST will be able to learn about the planet.

Outside of science, I am also passionate about music. I enjoy playing the cello and the mandolin at my local church, and once played the bass guitar in an informal band called "Hard Space Math." I love to learn, and enjoy reading and watching videos about all kinds of topics, including philosophy and psychology. I have loved getting to live in sunny Los Angeles, and enjoy going to the beach, trying new restaurants, and hiking in the Santa Monica mountains.