Meet the SO Scientist Sara Simon

Meet Sara!


I began working in cosmic microwave background (CMB) cosmology in Nils Halverson’s lab as an undergraduate at the University of Colorado. I had previously worked on solar satellite telemetry code at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, but I was drawn to the big questions that cosmology posed: What is the universe composed of? Where did we come from? What will happen to the universe in the future? What can we learn about the physics of our universe from the CMB? In the two and a half years that I worked for Nils, I developed hardware and analysis code for detector testing and characterization. The two and a half years I worked there only made me more curious and passionate about the subject. I owe a lot to everyone who worked in the lab at that time because they were all really amazing mentors.

I decided to continue research in the CMB at Princeton University, where I worked on several experiments through my NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship, including the Atacama B-mode Search (ABS), ACTPol, and Advanced ACTPol (AdvACT). ABS deployed just as I was beginning my degree, so I spent a lot of time in Chile operating and characterizing the telescope and detectors. ABS was really exciting because it was a pathfinder experiment testing out novel instrumental technologies, which also left room to develop new analysis and characterization techniques. Princeton is the heart of the array assembly and integration for ACTPol and AdvACT. While it wasn’t my primary focus, I helped with array assembly when it was crunch time. I continued to be interested in novel technologies and designed new feedhorns (which couple light onto our detectors) for AdvACT.

I earned my Ph.D. in 2016, and I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan. I’ve continued my work on AdvACT by designing the feedhorns and detectors for the low-frequency (27/39 GHz) array, and I am also a member of TolTEC, a high-resolution microwave camera for the Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) in Mexico. I’m interested in combining these data sets with optical data sets to better understand galaxy clusters, which are the largest gravitationally bound objects in the universe and could thus help us better understand dark energy and dark matter. As a member of SO, I am active in the detector group and a leader of the calibration, sensitivity, and systematics (CSS) group. The CSS group is responsible for determining the sensitivity and systematics of various telescope configurations to aid in instrument selection and scientific forecasts, making a plan for characterizing and calibrating the telescope to minimize systematics, and acting as the main interface between the science and design groups.

Equality in STEM fields is one of my core principles. As a graduate student, I was the leader of the graduate women in physics group, where I became very active in working toward equal access and opportunity for all in physics through mentorship, providing career development resources, and improving the climate in STEM fields. It is this experience and passion that have driven me to develop a mentorship program for SO with the mentorship committee, which I also lead. The mentorship program is open to all in SO and will offer one-on-one mentoring between junior and senior members of SO. We’ll begin accepting applications in June around the SO meeting, so keep your eyes peeled! Outside of work, I like to keep busy with lots of hobbies, including baking, cooking, gardening, and photography. Many people in our lab like cooking and/or baking, so there’s always something to eat whether it be caramel, croissants, or smoked pulled pork!

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