The Milky Way Laboratory Research Team

Meet the people who make the science happen!


Cara BattersbyDr. Cara Battersby is the PI and founder of the Milky Way Laboratory, and is currently an assistant professor at UConn in Physics. She received her PhD in astrophysics from the University of Colorado at Boulder, then held SMA and NSF postdoctoral fellowships at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Prof. Battersby studies how stars are born in our Galaxy’s Central Molecular Zone (CMZ), both observationally (CMZoom and related follow-up) and using numerical simulations, and ideally, combining both! Prof. Battersby is passionate about the future of astrophysics. She has worked with folks at NASA on developing a major space mission concept (Origins Space Telescope), is a co-founder of major outreach programs UConn STARs and BiteScis, and secretly wants to be Carl Sagan when she grows up. She loves being active outdoors (hiking, climbing, etc!), playing music and spending time with her wonderful family and friends. Dr. Battersby believes that Black lives matter, no human is illegal, trans rights are human rights, and that equal access to education is the recipe for a better world.


H Perry HatchfieldH Perry Hatchfield joins us as a new postdoc in the Milky Way Laboratory 🥳  🤩  in Summer 2022 after graduating from the University of Connecticut (with our group at the Milky Way Laboratory) in Spring 2022. Perry has been a part of Milky Way Laboratory since Spring 2017. He is the king of comparing simulations and observations, and is our go-to expert for all things python! Perry lead the CMZoom Catalog and is currently connecting our results with star formation tracers. He works with our colleagues, Ralf Klessen, Mattia Sormani, Robin Tress, and Rowan Smith, to run AREPO simulations of our Galactic Center. Most recently, he developed the code to include tracer particles to see where clouds in our Galactic Center come from and to measure the Galactic Center inflow rate.  Perry is also an LSST Data Science Fellow and an avid science communicator. Check out his BiteScis and Astrobites posts!

Samantha Brunker joins us as a new postdoc in the Milky Way Laboratory 🥳🤩 in Summer 2022 after graduating from the University of Indiana with her PhD in Astronomy. Samantha’s PhD research focused on the mysterious “green pea galaxies,” which are very useful tools for understanding reionization in the early Universe. Samantha is leading the group’s 3-D Molecular Cloud project, comparing archival X-ray data with radio and IR data to understand the 3-D structure of molecular clouds in the Central Molecular Zone and to help constrain past accretion events on SgrA*. Samantha has a wide range of expertise (and has been awarded time on the Hubble Space Telescope 🤯) and we are so excited to have her on board!

Graduate Students:

Jennifer WallaceJennifer Wallace has been a graduate student in the Milky Way Laboratory since Spring 2020. She is well on her way to becoming a radio interferometry ninja and is a leading expert on the unique Sgr E molecular cloud, which is right at the transition point between the dust lanes feeding the CMZ and the CMZ itself. Jen is leading efforts for two large ALMA programs: the ALMAGAL survey and ACES, where she is investigating the detailed physics of star formation across the Galaxy, and how fragmentation of star-forming regions varies with environment.

Dani Lipman
Dani Lipman has been a graduate student in the Milky Way Laboratory since Fall 2020. During the 2019/2020 Academic Year, Dani was on Fulbright Research Award in China to study faculty participation in science outreach, before, y’know, Covid-19 had anything to say about that. Dani completed her Bachelor’s in 2019 at the University of Iowa. She is currently leading the dust extinction study as part of “3-D CMZ: Unveiling the Structure of our Galaxy’s Central Molecular Zone.” In the next stages, Dani will be running zoom simulations to uncover the nature of turbulence in our Galaxy’s Center.

Russell Bentley is a graduate student in the computer science department who is collaborating with members of the Milky Way Laboratory starting in Fall 2022 to develop and run AREPO simulations of our Galaxy’s Central Molecular Zone.

Rachel Lee joins the Milky Way Laboratory as a first-year graduate student in Fall 2022, having just completed her bachelor’s degree at Purdue University!

Undergraduate Students:

Danya AlboslaniDanya Alboslani joined the Milky Way Laboratory as an undergraduate student in Spring 2021. Danya has been developing a WorldWide Telescope tour on our Galactic Center. This research is part of the 3-D CMZ project and will highlight the curious nature of our Galaxy’s Center and the importance of understanding its 3-D structure. She is currently working to compare Chandra X-ray, Spitzer IR, and CMZoom submillimeter data of molecular clouds in Galaxy’s Center – to map the clouds in 3-D using X-ray tomography.

Stefania SchulerStefania Schuler has been a member of the Milky Way Laboratory since Fall 2021. She is working with both the CMZoom ALMAGAL programs to uncover how star formation varies as a function of Galactic environment. She is already a master of python and is currently developing a Minimum Spanning Tree technique for use in clouds in the CMZoom survey. In doing so, she discovered the Milky Way Laboratory’s beloved mascot – Jeff.

Xavier Braun is joining the Milky Way Laboratory as an undergraduate research student in Fall 2022. He will be studying early star formation in our Galaxy’s Central Molecular Zone and trying to characterize the properties of the youngest stars using Spectral Energy Distributions.

Taevis Kolz has been a member of the Milky Way Laboratory since Spring 2022. He has mastered astropy table and can therefore take on the world! He is working with the ALMAGAL program to study star-forming cores throughout the disk of our Galaxy.

Sangeeta Kuchibhotla is joining the Milky way Laboratory as an undergraduate research student in Fall 2022. Welcome Sangeeta!

Milky Way Lab Group Photos

  • MW Lab Fall 2022

Former Members:

Hannah KoziolHannah Koziol was an undergraduate member of the Milky Laboratory from Spring 2020-Summer 2022. She is now pursuing her PhD at the University of California San Diego under the supervision of Prof. Karin Sandstrom. While at the Milky Way Laboratory, her research focused on understanding star formation in our extreme Galactic Center, and in particular, how environment affects star formation. She created synthetic observations from molecular cloud simulations to study how well measured density Probability Distribution Functions (PDFs) represent the true underlying physical and turbulent nature of molecular clouds.

Dr. Daniel Walker  was a postdoc in the Milky Way Laboratory from June 2020 – April 2022. Daniel is now an astrophysicist at the UK ALMA Regional Centre, which is hosted at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at The University of Manchester. Dr. Walker lead the kinematics, spectral line analysis, and Bayesian distance estimator for “3-D CMZ: Unveiling the Structure of our Galaxy’s Central Molecular Zone.” We continue to collaborate with Dan on his work understanding star and cluster formation in the CMZ. He is an expert with interferometry data, and is performing some of the highest-resolution, most sensitive studies of protostellar cores in our Galaxy’s Center.

Payal Shah (Spring 2020-Spring 2022) was an undergraduate student in the Milky Laboratory from Spring 2020-Spring 2022. She worked with ALMA data in the Galactic Center and searching for changes in the probability distribution function of a possibly tidally-compressed cloud, known as the “Stone cloud.”

Lexie DeMarco (Summer 2021-Spring 2022) was an undergraduate student in the Milky Way Laboratory from Summer 2021 – Spring 2022. She worked with synthetic observations of a star-forming molecular cloud to uncover how various observational parameters affect the resulting Core Mass Function.

Eddie Herndon (Fall 2019 – Spring 2020) used spectral lines from the CMZoom survey to measure the temperatures of protostellar cores in the CMZ. This work is key for understanding the physics of star formation and core mass function in this extreme environment.

Eric Hilhorst (Spring 2020)’s research was focused on understanding turbulence in our Galaxy’s Center using the python package turbustats.

Anthony (Josh) Machado (Spring 2018 – Summer 2020) worked to determine NH3 temperatures using VLA data toward the W51 region and uncovering how this affects the measured Core Mass Function.

Yiyan Kuang (Fall 2020) worked to create synthetic observations of the Core Mass Function from AREPO numerical simulations of a star-forming molecular cloud.

Bryan Garcia-Medina (Fall 2019 – Spring 2020) worked on algorithms to identify structures within numerical simulations of the Galactic Center.

Jonah Cerbin (Spring 2019), Stephen Walczyk (Spring 2019 – Fall 2019), Joseph Giangregorio (Fall 2017 – Spring 2019), Alice Hall (Spring 2018 – Summer 2019), Brian Zelicskovics (Spring 2018), Alexa Abul (Fall 2017 – Spring 2018), Christopher Annuzzi (Fall 2017 – Fall 2018), Cooper Biancur (Fall 2017 – Spring 2018), Stephanie Santillo (Fall 2017).