“I know everyone won’t become an astronomer, but science is for everyone. I do outreach because it fosters curiosity and critical thinking. When you’re learning about the universe, it helps you realize how special Earth is, how we should take care of it and be kinder with each other. This helps makes sense of my work.”

Teresa Paneque-Carreño

Planets are born in disks of material around young stars among whorls of dust, ice, and gas. When Teresa Paneque-Carreño entered the astronomy field, advances like the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observatory in her home country of Chile revealed disks with spiraled arms, rings, and a fluffy thickness far past their primary planes. Studying these structures, which offered direct insight into planet formation processes, became Teresa’s passion.

Ms. Paneque-Carreño traces the vertical extensions of protoplanetary disks, greatly expanding the set of clues available to explain how planets form. Her approach combines observations and modeling that mimics the properties of the gaseous molecules detected in protoplanetary disks, using tools she developed to map them in three telling dimensions.

During her fellowship, Ms. Paneque-Carreño will use high-resolution data from ALMA to directly measure the vertical components of a statistically significant sample of disks. In addition to conducting this extensive new survey, Ms. Paneque-Carreño will model and measure the disks to understand their structures, as well as how materials mix and interact with the forming planets.

Interactions, Ms. Paneque-Carreño knows, mean a great deal to how planets—and people—take shape. Working with female advisors during her postgraduate studies stoked her natural curiosity with confidence. She hopes to pay this forward through her outreach work by serving as role model to young women. Alongside astronomy, Ms. Paneque-Carreño is also a science communicator, UNICEF Chile ambassador, and published author of The Universe According to Carlota—a series of books that bring science to life for young readers. She will receive a Ph.D. in astronomy from Leiden University in Fall 2024.