Adam Burgasser, Principal Investigator


[CV] [Bibliography] [Spring 2021 Teaching/Meeting Schedule]

Adam Burgasser is a Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UC San Diego and an observational astrophysicist investigating the lowest mass stars, coldest brown dwarfs, and exoplanets. He uses a variety of ground-based and space-based telescopes to research the physical properties and processes of these objects, including optical and near-infrared spectroscopy to explore the atmospheres of MLTY dwarfs; high resolution laser guide star adaptive optics imaging and high resolution spectroscopy to search for and characterize low-mass multiple systemsradio, optical and X-ray observations to study magnetic activity; synoptic photometry and spectroscopy to investigate brown dwarf weather; and numerical simulations to characterize brown dwarf populations. He is best known for leading the definition of the T spectral class (part of his PhD thesis work), discovering metal-poor halo L subdwarfs, investigating the remarkable L dwarf/T dwarf transition, and is a co-discover of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system. He has authored over 250 peer-review publications on these topics, a few of which have made the news and even landed him in front of Congress.

Adam has had the privilege of working in several rewarding international collaborations. He is a member of the SPECULOOS team, which is searching for potentially habitable worlds around the smallest stars; the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 program, a citizen science project aimed at searching for ultracold nearby brown dwarfs; and the SDSS-IV consortium as one of the Faculty and Student Team (FAST) program. In 2017 he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to work with collaborators at the University of Exeter. He has also been a visiting professor at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias through the Severo Ochoa-CEI Canarias Campus Atlántico Tricontinental Senior Visitor Program and at the University of Bern Center for Space and Habitability through support from the Hans Sigrist Foundation

Adam also conducts Physics education research in collaboration with UCSD faculty in the UCSD Teaching and Learning Commons.  In addition to deploying interactive and participatory teaching strategies in large lectures, he has tested the Cooperative Problem Solving model with ≈1000 students in Physics 1A (Mechanics for Life Science Majors) and developed a series of lecture videos for this course, a project funded by the UCSD Course Development and Instructional Improvement Program. He is currently part of a UCSD team funded by the NSF IUSE program investigating cross-disciplinary video development for math fluency. In 2015, he co-developed a first-year writing course around the topic “Are We Alone?”; and explored embodied learning methods for the physical sciences. With YouTube phenom Dianna Cowern (aka “Physics Girl”), he started the Beach Physics project to develop Physics content for middle school students centered around the beach environment. He has also participated in a California Math and Science Partnership program to teach Physics fundamentals to regional K-8 teachers. Adam was trained in interactive and inquiry teaching methods through the Center for Astronomy Education and Center of Adaptive Optics Inquiry Training programs, now the Institute for Scientist and Engineer Educators. In 2016, he was awarded UCSD’s Distinguished Teaching Award; in 2021, he was awarded Revelle College’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

Adam is also interested in fostering creativity and integrating artistic techniques in the teaching and communication of science.  He has been part of science-art collaborations Project Planetaria and cosmOcosm with Tara Knight (Theatre Arts) and Michael Trigilio (Visual Arts), which have explored data-driven artforms, science-art metaphors, trans-sensory perception, and participatory interaction. In 2013, they developed a data-driven art course with support from the UC Institute for Research in the Arts. With funding from the UC San Diego Frontiers in Science Program, they supported a student team that built a prototype sound planetarium which was demonstrated at the 2018 USA Science and Engineering Expo. More recently, he has worked with Tara Knight’s team to develop an immersive virtual reality exploration of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system. With Patricia Rincon (Dance) he developed a movement- and gesture-based language for physics concepts.  These projects have been featured in several conferences and public events, including Audacious Speculations, the Deep Listening Institute Conference Series, the La Jolla Playhouse Without Walls Festival, and the USA Science and Engineering Festival.

Adam is deeply engaged in addressing barriers to equity and inclusion in Physics and Astronomy at the undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and faculty levels.  He has been a member and Chair of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy, and currently represents the CSMA as a AAS Trustee and Vice President. He is also a member of the California Professoriate for Access to Physics Careers (CPAPC), and hosted two CPAPC Physics Graduate Admissions Bootcamp in 2016 and 2017. At UCSD, he has been Chair of the Outreach/Diversity committee in the Department of Physics, organizing community outreach events with organizations such as Tech Trek, Intertribal Youth, and Camp Ciencia. He is a member of the Division of Physical Science EDI committee, the Black Academic Excellence Initiative, the Black Studies Project, and a former faculty lead of the Undergraduate Women in Physics group when it hosted the 2016 APS Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics. In 2013, he and co-investigator Willie Rockward were awarded funding through the UC-HBCU Initiative to start the UCSD-Morehouse-Spelman Physics Bridge Program.  In 2015, he was part of the organizing committee that brought about the first Inclusive Astronomy conference at Vanderbilt University; recommendations from this meeting can be found here. He is a member of the National Society of Black Physicists and SACNAS, and has two organized science sessions for the latter. He was also a participant in the 2003 and 2009 Women in Astronomy meetings, and speaker at Women in Astronomy 2017. He regularly contributes to and mentors students involved in the CAMPARE and Cal-Bridge programs.  In 2014, he was awarded the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action and Diversity Award at UCSD for his diversity and outreach work, and Outstanding Mentor of the Year award for his work with undergraduate research students.

Adam’s research, teaching and diversity work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the US Department of State (through the Fulbright program) the American Astronomical Society, the American Physical Society, the MIT Alumni Class Funds, the UC Office of the President, the UC Institute for Research in the Arts, the UCSD Center for the Humanities, the UCSD Frontiers in Science Program, the UCSD Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, the UCSD Division of Physical Sciences, the Hans Sigrist Foundation, and the Chris and Warren Hellman Fellowship.

Adam is originally from Buffalo, NY, and enjoys being away from all that snow (although secretly he misses it). He is an avid surfer, bike commuter, frequent traveller, perpetually beginner musician, amateur genealogist, family historian, and is working on his Spanish, German, Kumeyaay, Hawaiian, and American Sign Language. When he was more flexible, he was a national champion springboard diver and recipient of the NCAA Top VII award, and in 2020 was awarded the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award which had been previously earned by his former mentor Dr. Sally Ride. When he had more time, he was Shakespearean actor trained in stage combat and had sufficient acting experience to earn an IMDB page.