Sara Seager: Pushing boundaries through collaboration

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If you’re lucky enough to look up into a clear night sky and see the thousands of stars visible to the naked eye, it’s hard not to wonder, “are there other planets like ours out there?” Our guest for this episode, Professor Sara Seager, is on a mission to discover potentially habitable planets outside our solar system.

Sara is an astrophysicist and planetary scientist at MIT, and to discover these exoplanets, she relies not only on her own brilliance—she’s the recipient of a Macarthur Fellowship, otherwise known as the “Genius Grant”—but also on some pretty extreme collaboration across different disciplines.

In the course of our conversation, we talk to Sara about how these teams push beyond initial friction, and how giving herself permission to fail has driven much of her success. Sara is also the author of a memoir titled The Smallest Lights in the Universe, and we talk to her about the book and bringing her full self to work

Bio

Sara Seager is the Class of 1941 Professor of Planetary Science, Professor of Physics, and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her past research is credited with laying the foundation for the field of exoplanet atmospheres, while her current research focuses on exoplanet atmospheres and the future search for signs of life by way of atmospheric biosignature gases.

Professor Seager is involved with a number of space-based exoplanet searches including as the Deputy Science Director for the MIT-led NASA mission TESS, as the PI for the on-orbit JPL/MIT CubeSat ASTERIA, and as a lead for Starshade Rendezvous Mission (a space-based mission concept under technology development for direct imaging discovery and characterization of Earth analogs).

Having authored three of her own books (’The Smallest Lights in the Universe: a Memoir’, ‘Exoplanets and the Search For Habitable Worlds’, and ‘Exoplanet Atmospheres: Physical Processes’) and edited a fourth, Sara has experience consolidating years of research into an authoritative resource and is credited with producing a book that “will be a bible for students and professionals interested in exoplanet atmospheres.”

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