Dr. Elisa Quintana is a Research Scientist with the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center where she works on the Kepler Mission to help search for and characterize extrasolar planets. Most recently, she led a team of astronomers to confirm Kepler-186f, the first Earth-sized planet found to orbit within the habitable zone of another star. Her research also includes creating computer models to study the formation, dynamical stability and habitability of rocky planets within and beyond our solar system.
Dr. Quintana received a B.S. in Physics from the University of California, San Diego. Her interest in space research began while working at the California Space Institute at UCSD with former astronaut and physics professor Dr. Sally Ride on a project called KidSat (now EarthKam). The program consisted of a camera onboard the space shuttle that took photos of the Earth selected by school children, and Quintana’s role was to coordinate the space shuttle orbits with the locations on Earth. After college, she spent the summer (1997) in the NASA Academy program at Goddard Space Flight Center where she worked with Dr. Elihu Boldt on a feasibility study of an inflatable large x-ray collector satellite. She spent an additional summer (1998) at Goddard working with Dr. Ramona Kessel to measure the Earth’s magnetosphere with Geotail satellite data.
She moved to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1997 for her graduate studies where she earned an M.S. in Physics and an M.S. in Aerospace Science (with a specialty in Astrodynamics). During this time she worked with Dr. Lennard Fisk to measure the Sun’s differential rotation with SOHO data. In 1999, she received a NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program fellowship which allowed her to move to NASA Ames Research Center in California to perform her thesis research with a NASA scientist. She worked with Dr. Jack Lissauer at Ames and Dr. Fred Adams at the University of Michigan to create computer models to study planet formation in binary star systems, focusing on the Alpha Centauri system. She also worked with Dr. Bill Borucki on the Vulcan Planet Search Program at Lick Observatory, which was a ground-based search for exoplanets and a proof-of-concept project for the Kepler Mission (which was officially selected as a NASA Discovery Mission in 2001).
Dr. Quintana received her Ph.D. in Physics in 2004 and continued her planet formation research from 2004 – 2006 through a NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) fellowship. In 2006, she joined the SETI Institute to work on the Kepler mission as a scientic programmer. For five years she worked on the software that calibrates the flight data and validates planetary candidates, receiving a 2010 NASA Software of the Year Award for her contributions. She was also a member of the Kepler Data Analysis Working Group, helping to improve the quality of the processed Kepler flight data for use by the astronomical community. In 2011 she began work with Dr. Jason Rowe to model and refine the star and planet parameters for the thousands of Kepler planet candidates. During this time, she developed a method to confirm planets using only Kepler photometry (without the need for expensive follow-up observations from large ground-based telescopes) by measuring light reflected from a planet. She also contributed to numerous exoplanet discovery and characterization papers, including the confirmation of Kepler-186f. She will soon begin a NASA Senior NPP Fellowship (link http://nasa.orau.org/postdoc/) at Ames Research Center where she will again work with Dr. Borucki, this time using Kepler observations of multiple-planet systems to refine her models of planet formation and habitability.