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Ryan J. MacDonald

I am a theoretical astrophysicist researching exoplanet atmospheres at Cornell University’s Carl Sagan Institute. I develop computational techniques to characterise the atmospheres of these distant worlds using ground and space-based telescopes.

I completed a PhD in Astronomy at the University of Cambridge in 2019. My PhD research focused on deriving the chemical composition, temperature structure, and cloud properties of exoplanets - ranging from inferno gas giants to Neptune-mass worlds. These same techniques will soon enable astronomers like myself to seek indirect signs of biological activity on habitable terrestrial planets, thereby answering one of the most profound questions about our place in the Universe.

Prior to my time in Cambridge, I completed a Master’s Degree in Physics at Oxford University. Whilst there, I investigated designs of thermal-Infrared instruments for a proposed European Space Agency (ESA) sample return mission to the moons of Mars. I also served as a data analyst during the later stages of ESA’s Venus Express mission.

I am currently a Research Associate at Cornell University, working on modelling exoplanet atmospheres in preparation for the launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope in 2021.

Alongside research, I am an active science communicator and strong advocate for widening involvement in STEM education and research. In addition to radio, TV, and podcast interviews, I am a freelance writer for the New Scientist and regularly give talks in schools, astronomical societies, and science fairs - if you are interested, please do drop me a message!