Ellen Price thrives most when tackling complex problems with big picture implications. As a theorist, she uses her mathematical intuition and computer programming talents to create simulations that explore the diverse outcomes of planetary formation. The focus of Ellen’s work is protoplanetary disks—the birthplaces of planets. Using highly efficient code, she simulates how the disk materials evolve over time and at multiple scales, from miniscule grains to giant planets. Her work reduces the time it takes to make realistic evolving disk models, and arrives as the field looks to interpret data from impending space missions.

In her fellowship, Ellen will extend her code to model the chemical reactions that occur as the rocky cores of planets materialize within a protoplanetary disk. Simulating the ways dust and gas interact within these environments advances the field by making an inventory of the chemical building blocks of planets as they grow. Results of her research will not only help interpret observations from the James Webb Space Telescope, but also unleash the full potential of lab data already available. Ellen received a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Harvard University in May 2021.

“As we wait for the James Webb Space Telescope to launch, we can use observations and lab data on hand to explore the features of protoplanetary disks that are way more complicated than we ever thought.”