Reprinted from YaleNews
By Jim Shelton
Malena Rice, a graduating Ph.D. student and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in the Department of Astronomy, has been named a 51 Pegasi b Fellow by the Heising-Simons Foundation.
The prestigious fellowship, which is named for the first exoplanet discovered orbiting a sun-like star, provides up to $385,000 in support for independent research over three years.
Rice’s research focuses on exoplanets, which are planets located outside of Earth’s solar system, and on the formation, evolution, and characterization of planetary systems. She also looks at objects within Earth’s outer solar system.
Rice’s published research includes studies about “hot” Jupiters, the number of interstellar objects likely to pass through our solar system, and a search for the theorized Planet Nine conducted by gathering scattered light from space telescope images.
“Finding another planet in our solar system would be wonderful — and change all of our textbooks!” Rice said. “Even if Planet Nine isn’t there, we get to pursue different avenues that are equally exciting.”
Throughout her time at Yale, Rice has devoted herself to science communication and outreach. She has been a regular presenter at the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium, a volunteer for the Girls’ Science Investigations program, a volunteer for Yale’s Open Labs events, the head coordinator of New Haven’s Astronomy on Tap, and keynote speaker for Yale’s Girls’ Math Day at Yale in 2018.
Rice’s Yale faculty mentor has been Gregory Laughlin. In the fall, she will begin her 51 Pegasi b fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
At MIT, Rice will use machine learning methods and cutting-edge computational techniques to enable groundbreaking detections of outer solar system bodies. She will also compare the shapes and sizes of distant objects to the pancake-like interstellar objects detected to date, revealing more about the kinds of bodies that commonly inhabit the outskirts of planetary systems.
“Our solar system is the bedrock for understanding how planetary systems work on a broad scale,” Rice said. “It’s important to consider both our own solar system and extrasolar systems when constructing a larger framework for our theoretical understanding of how planetary systems form and evolve.”