Erika Holmbeck '20 Ph.D. has been awarded the NASA Hubble Fellowship, a highly competitive fellowship renewable for up to three years that will allow her to continue her research on the origin of the universe’s heaviest elements.
The NASA Hubble Fellowship program encompasses the Einstein, Hubble, and Sagan awards that offers up to 24 fellowships each year. This is the first time a Notre Dame doctoral graduate has received one of these highly competitive fellowships. At least 400 people apply each year.
Holmbeck said she was shocked when she found out that she was selected.
“When I saw the email, I don’t remember reading the rest of it,” she said. “I felt dizzy, I was in so much shock.”
Holmbeck’s doctoral thesis included work under the direction of both Rebecca Surman, professor of theoretical nuclear physics, and Timothy Beers, Grace-Rupley Professor of Physics. Under the direction of Beers, Holmbeck worked on astronomical observations, and under Surman’s direction, she studied theoretical nuclear astrophysics.
“Her proposed Hubble Fellowship research program is an inventive combination of the two that offers an entirely new pathway for our understanding of the origins of the heaviest elements,” Surman said. “I am tremendously proud of Erika and know that she will make the most of this exciting opportunity.”
Fellows select the institution at which they will complete their research. Holmbeck will further her research at Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, California.
“Elements like thorium and uranium - we don’t really understand where they come from,” Holmbeck said as she described her search for heavy elements. “They are made by the universe, and we see them in other stars.
"The main focus of my research is the question, how were they formed by the universe?"
The Space Telescope Science Institute administers the program on behalf of NASA, in collaboration with the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI) at the California Institute of Technology and the Chandra X-ray Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.