Astronomer David Kipping Named Sloan Research Fellow

February 19, 2018

Assistant Professor of Astronomy David Kipping has been named a recipient of the prestigious 2018 Sloan Research Fellowship.

The fellowship, awarded annually since 1955 by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, honors early-career scholars in eight scientific and technical fields (chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics) whose achievements have set them apart as up-and-coming leaders in the scientific community. This year’s 126 recipients come from 53 colleges and universities across the United States and Canada.  

“The Sloan Research Fellows represent the very best science has to offer,” said Sloan President Adam Falk in a press release. “The brightest minds, tackling the hardest problems, and succeeding brilliantly – Fellows are quite literally the future of twenty-first century science.”

Named one of Science News'  "Ten Scientists to Watch" in 2017 and one of the "Brilliant Ten" by Popular Science in 2015, Kipping has a strong global reputation as a progressive forward-thinker for his research on exomoons and extrasolar planets. It is feasible, he believes, that a moon under the right conditions could support life or impact the ability of its host planet to support life. His research interests also include the study and characterization of transiting exoplanets, the development of novel detection and characterization techniques, exoplanet atmospheres, Bayesian inference, population statistics, and understanding stellar hosts.

In addition to his research, Kipping spends much of his time teaching, mentoring, and doing outreach. At Columbia, he leads the Cool Worlds lab, in which he works with students to study extrasolar planetary systems using novel methodologies and modern data science techniques. He also hosts the Cool Worlds YouTube channel, where he discusses the group’s research and breaks it down for nonscientists.

Kipping earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Cambridge and received his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from University College London. He spent time doing postdoctoral work at Harvard University before joining Columbia University in 2015, and has authored 70 scientific publications.

Calling the Sloan Fellowship “catalytic,” Falk said it is an “unmistakable marker of quality that makes a young researcher stand out.” Candidates must be nominated by their fellow scientists and winning fellows are selected by an independent panel of senior scholars in their field on the basis of a candidate’s research accomplishments, creativity, and potential to become a leader in his or her field. Many prominent figures in the history of science have received the honor, including 45 Nobel Prize winners. Columbia University has been home to 217 recipients dating back to Benjamin Dailey, a chemist who was named a fellow in 1955.

“I’m honored to be selected as a Sloan Fellow and I am in awe of the many talented people on this list,” Kipping said. “Recognition from one's peers is generally not a driving force behind why a scientist pursues the questions they do, but it does provide great encouragement that their approach and results to date are pushing into the right directions. I certainly have a spring in my step right now and have extra energy to tackle several major problems my team has been thinking about.”

Kipping plans to use the two-year, $65,000 fellowship award to support his team’s research. In particular, he said, the group plans to pursue areas of study that traditional funding agencies would consider too risky.

-By Jessica Guenzel