Nikole Lewis Receives 2012 Kuiper Award

Nikole K. Lewis, doctoral student in the Department of Planetary Sciences, is the recipient of the 2012 Gerard P. Kuiper Memorial Award. The award is presented to University of Arizona (UA) students in the field of planetary sciences who have excelled in academic work and research. The award is presented in memory of Gerard P. Kuiper, the founder of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and Department of Planetary Sciences. Kuiper died in 1973, shortly after the department was established. The Kuiper Award consists of a $1,000 stipend and an award plaque. Nikole was presented with the Kuiper Award at the LPL Awards and Recognition Ceremony held on April 13, 2012. She successfully defended her dissertation, titled "Atmospheric Circulation of Eccentric Extrasolar Giant Planets," on April 16, 2012.

Nikole enrolled in the Department of Planetary Sciences in 2007 after earning a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and mechanical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic University (2002) and a Master of Science degree in astronomy from Boston University (2004). Her doctoral research has spanned multiple, diverse topics: three-dimensional atmospheric circulation modeling of hot Jupiters using a state-of-the-art atmospheric general circulation model; with a collaborator, reduction and analysis of infrared lightcurves of hot Jupiters collected during the warm Spitzer mission, culminating in the successful analysis of the full-orbit lightcurves of the hot Jupiter HAT-P-2b; investigation of the atmospheric circulation of hot Jupiters, emphasizing those on eccentric orbits.

Nikole's advisor, Adam Showman, writes that her "simulation results have strong implications for observations of `warm' Neptunes and Jupiters generally as well as GJ 436b specifically....Her work has also shown that hot Jupiters on highly eccentric orbits exhibit dynamic, time-variable atmospheric circulations and that infrared lightcurves should contain significant information about the circulation regime and the pressure from which infrared photons escape to space." Nikole pioneered a new method to correct for the Spitzer IRAC intrapixel sensitivity variation, resulting in the best constraints obtained on the atmospheric structure of any hot Jupiter on a highly eccentric orbit. Adam concludes that, "the analysis methods developed by Nikole will also prove essential in analyzing lightcurves for a variety of other planets observed with warm Spitzer."

While a graduate student, Nikole won a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF), which funded most of her exoplanet research for three years. She is a three-time recipient of a UA College of Science Galileo Circle Scholarship. Nikole was the recipient of the 2012 PTYS/LPL Graduate Student Award for Scholarship and was selected by the UA College of Science as the college-wide recipient of the Graduate Student Award for Scholarship. Also in 2012, Nikole was awarded a prestigious NASA Sagan Fellowship (only 5 awards were made this year). Nikole will continue her exoplanet research as a Sagan postdoctoral scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Congratulations, Nikole!