Sara Seager is an astrophysicist and planetary scientist at MIT. Her science research focuses on theory, computation, and data analysis of exoplanets. Her research has introduced many new ideas to the field of exoplanet characterization, including work that led to the first detection of an exoplanet atmosphere. Professor Seager also works in space instrumentation and space missions for exoplanets, including CubeSats, as a co-I on the MIT-led TESS, a NASA Explorer Mission to be launched in 2017, and chaired the NASA Science and Technology Definition Team for a "Probe-class" Starshade and telescope system for direct imaging discovery and characterization of Earth analogs.
joining MIT in 2007, Professor Seager spent four years on the senior
research staff at the Carnegie Institution of Washington preceded by
three years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. Her
PhD is from Harvard University. Professor Seager is on the advisory
board for Planetary Resources. Professor Seager was elected
to the National Academy of Sciences in 2015, is a 2013 MacArthur
Fellow, the 2012 recipient of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler
Prize in the Physical Sciences, and the 2007 recipient of the American
Astronomical Society's Helen B. Warner Prize. She has been recognized
in the media, most recently in Time
Magazine's 25 Most Influential in Space in 2012.
Professor Sara Seager is a planetary scientist and astrophysicist. She
has been a pioneer in the vast and unknown world of exoplanets,
planets that orbit stars other than the sun. Her ground-breaking
research ranges from the detection of exoplanet atmospheres to
innovative theories about life on other worlds to development of novel
space mission concepts. Now, dubbed an "astronomical Indiana Jones",
she on a quest after the field's holy grail, the discovery of a true
Earth twin. Dr. Seager earned her PhD from Harvard University and is
now the Class of 1941 Professor of Planetary Science and Professor
of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Professor Seager is a 2013 MacArthur Fellow and was named in Time Magazine's 25 Most Influential in Space in 2012.
Professor Sara Seager was born and grew up in Toronto, Canada. Among her first memories is a trip to a “star party” with her father, to see the moon through a telescope—spectacular! Professor Seager graduated from Jarvis Collegiate Institute, a 200-year old public high school known for its science education. During high school she was astounded to learn that one could be an astrophysicist for a living, only to be deterred by her father, who believed the best career was as a doctor or lawyer.
Professor Seager entered the University of Toronto with the idealistic view that anything and everything could be described by a physics equation. She soon learned, that, in reality, approximations are not only rampant but necessary. This realization motivated Professor Seager to eventually leave pure physics to pursue her “first love” astronomy. After graduating with a BSc in the Math and Physics Specialist Program at the University of Toronto, Seager attended the PhD program in Astronomy at Harvard .
While at Harvard, in the mid-1990s, the first reports of exoplanets around sun-like stars begain appearing. Encouraged by her PhD supervisor, Dimitar Sasselov, Seager studied the atmospheres of these so-called hot Jupiter planets. At the time, many scientists were skeptical of the new planets, preferring to believe they were the result of a different phenomenon, such as star variability. Others thought the claims made in Seager’s thesis would never be substantiated. But exoplanets kept turning up and Seager’s early work was eventually validated.
After earning a PhD from Harvard in 1999, Professor Seager joined the cadre of postdoctoral fellows at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. There, she benefited enormously from the mentorship of the late John Bahcall. Unlike most scientists at the time, John Bahcall supported Seager’s new ideas in exoplanets with almost unbounded enthusiasm, as long as the underlying physics was sound and the phenomenon was detectable some day in Seager’s lifetime. Bahcall’s support enabled Seager to initiate several new topics in exoplanet characterization.
research now focuses on theoretical models of
atmospheres and interiors of all kinds of
exoplanets as well as novel space science missions. Her research has introduced many new
ideas to the field of exoplanet characterization,
including work that led to the first detection of
an exoplanet atmosphere. She was part of a team
that co-discovered the first detection of light
emitted from an exoplanet and the first spectrum
of an exoplanet. The exceedingly surprising
diversity of exoplanets has led
Seager’s maxim, “For
exoplanets, anything is possible under the laws of
physics and chemistry.”
Professor Seager is an astrophysicist and planetary scientist at MIT. She lives with her two sons in Massachusetts.