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New Faculty: Jessica Lu

Jessica Lu

Jessica Lu studies star formation in extreme environments, including the region near the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, an unusual population of young stars near the central supermassive black hole of the Andromeda Galaxy, and the cores of young star clusters with masses ten thousand times the mass of the Sun. These environments are excellent laboratories for testing whether all stars and star clusters form in a manner similar to the Sun and the local solar neighborhood.

She began her faculty appointment in August, but she has been at the IfA since 2011 as a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow. She received her undergraduate degree from MIT and her PhD from UCLA and then spent the next three years as a Millikan Postdoctoral Scholar in Observational Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology before coming to Hawai‘i.

Lu is also interested in developing telescopes’ adaptive optics (AO) systems, which counteract the blurring turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere, and other telescope instruments. She has served on committees working on next-generation AO systems for the Keck telescopes and on instruments for the Thirty Meter Telescope that is scheduled to begin scientific operations on Mauna Kea in 2022.

Concerned with furthering astronomy education and outreach, Lu is a cofounder and contributing member of the AstroBetter website (, which seeks to build a knowledge base of best research and educational practices for professional astronomers and astronomy graduate students. She notes, “Often new classroom materials are created by one person and then only that person uses them. I would like to not only develop and implement new classroom activities, but also to package them and make them available to other astronomy teaching assistants and professors.” During the summer of 2012, she developed and taught a short course to undergraduate students attending the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at the IfA. The course included statistics, abstract writing, research methods, and how to read the scientific literature efficiently.

In addition to her astronomical pursuits, Lu trained as a ballet dancer and attended the High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, TX. She and her family enjoy all of the aquatic activities that Hawai’i provides, especially kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving.

Photo by K. Teramura