Dr. Elisa Quintana is an Astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She currently works on the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, helping to develop a Guest Investigator Program to enable community participation with TESS. She is also the Deputy Project Scientist for Communications for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) where she leads the scientific direction for communications and outreach. Her research interests include exoplanet observations with ground and space-based surveys, and creating computer models to study the formation, dynamical stability and habitability of planets within and beyond our solar system.
Prior to starting her position at Goddard in January 2017, she was a Research Scientist with the SETI Institute and a NASA Senior Postdoctoral Fellow (NPP) at Ames Research Center in California where she worked on the Kepler and K2 space missions to search for extrasolar planets. In 2014 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.
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 UC, San Diego with former astronaut and physics professor 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 middle school students, and Quintana’s role as was to track the projection of the space shuttle orbits onto Earth. After college, she spent the summer in the (1997) NASA Academy program at Goddard Space Flight Center where she worked with Elihu Boldt on a feasibility study of an inflatable large x-ray collector satellite. She spent an additional summer (1998) at Goddard working with 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 Lennard Fisk and Thomas Zurbuchen on a project to measure the Sun’s differential rotation with SOHO data. In 1999, she received a NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program fellowship and moved to NASA Ames Research Center in California to perform her thesis research with a NASA scientist. She worked with Jack Lissauer at Ames and 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 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.
Dr. Quintana received her Ph.D. in Physics in 2004 and continued her planet formation research at Ames 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 scientific 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 Jason Rowe to model and refine the star and planet parameters for thousands of Kepler planet candidates. During this time, she developed a method to confirm planets using only Kepler photometry by measuring light reflected from a planet. She has contributed to the discovery and characterization of hundreds of exoplanets detected by the Kepler space telescope.