Katherine Whitaker

Assistant Professor
Co-advisor, Class of 2024
Kate Whitaker


Ph.D. in Astronomy, Yale University (June 2012)
M.S., M.Phil. in Astronomy, Yale University (May 2007, 2008)

B.S. in Physics & Astronomy, Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst (May 2005)
Summa cum Laude, with highest honors in the Commonwealth College


LGRT 524


University of Massachusetts Department of Astronomy LGRT-B 619E 710 North Pleasant Street Amherst, MA 01003-9305

Phone Number: 

(413) 545-3556



Research Interests: 

Surveys of the universe only a few billion years after the Big Bang are critical for understanding galaxy formation. During this epoch, encompassing both “cosmic dawn” and “cosmic noon”, the majority of stars in the universe were formed. We are at an exciting time, as upcoming world-class facilities sensitive to longer wavelength radiation promise to revolutionize our understanding of early galaxy formation and evolution.  Central to my research goals in the next 5-10 years are leveraging the capabilities of four state-of-the-art observing facilities:  Hubble Space Telescope (HST), James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), and the Prime Focus Spectrograph (PFS) on the Subaru Telescope.  With these facilities, my research team is studying the regulation of star formation and quenching in massive galaxies in the early universe.

I am also an associate faculty at the newly anointed Cosmic Dawn Center of Excellence (DAWN, officially established April 2018), located at the University of Copenhagen/DTU-Space in Denmark.  DAWN brings together emerging leaders in every aspect of cosmic dawn with a unique combination worldwide of privileged access to each of the telescopes central to my research plan.  With generous funding to travel to DAWN with my students for the next decade, our international collaboration crosses boundaries between observers and theorists, as well as various areas of astrophysics (star formation, dust physics, the epoch of reionization).  I am also leading the National Science Foundation funded International Research Experience for Students (NSF-IRES), sending cohorts of 7 students as DAWN Scholars for an 11-week summer research experience.  More information can be found at www.dawnires.com.  


Teaching Statement: 

Central to my teaching philosophy is the belief that the ability to communicate scientific knowledge at all levels is equally important to cutting-edge research for the advancement of astrophysics. My experiences mentoring research students, teaching the broader student body, collaborating with peers, and interacting with the general public have enforced the realization that scientific methods teach us to solve problems across all disciplines. By encouraging critical thinking and reinforcing quantitative reasoning skills, students develop a solid foundation and a fundamental understanding of concepts. In structuring any course, I introduce key concepts and analysis tools early and they continue to appear in growing complexity. When developing fundamental problem solving skills, real world applications can carry the most weight. As learning styles are diverse, I believe that hands-on experiments and demonstrations that are integrated into the traditional lecture material can serve as pivotal learning tools.