Lucianne Walkowicz

Astrophysicist and TED Fellow

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Lucianne Walkowicz | Astrophysicist and TED Fellow
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Lucianne Walkowicz is an astrophysicist and multimedia artist. Her work delves into a question both scientific, and fundamentally human: what is the nature of life in the universe? In passionate and electrifying talks, Walkowicz sheds light on how the thousands of newly-discovered planetary systems might lead to the discovery of life beyond planet Earth, and how the future of our home world depends on our personal connection to science.

Walkowicz strongly believes that the challenges of our future can only be addressed by diverse minds. Her data-driven artwork seeks to spark wonder, allowing the viewer to experience the insatiable curiosity that lies at the heart of science. She works to empower people from all walks of life through scientific discovery, fostering interdisciplinary collaborations, mentoring students, and developing citizen science projects that put the tools of discovery in anyone’s hands.  


Captivated by the mysteries of the natural world from a young age, Walkowicz is a lifelong explorer who began doing formal research at age 17. She has since been part of several space missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Kepler Mission, and is a leader in the future Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. Walkowicz holds a B.S. in Physics from Johns Hopkins University, a M.S. and Ph.D. from University of Washington. She was the Kepler Fellow at UC Berkeley, and the Henry Norris Russell Fellow at Princeton University, before joining the Astronomy Department at Adler Planetarium in 2014. She is a 2013 TED Senior Fellow, a 2011 National Academy of Sciences Kavli Fellow, and has been internationally recognized for her advocacy for conservation of dark night skies. 

Speech Topics

Planets and Stars New Worlds and New Life
How do we find planets—even habitable planets—around other stars? By looking for tiny dimming as a planet passes in front of its sun, TED Fellow Lucianne Walkowicz and the Kepler mission have found some 3,500 potential new planets. With new techniques, they may even find ones with the right conditions for life. In this clear and interactive talk, Walkowicz explains how these discoveries are possible, and why they matter: “Every measurement [Kepler] makes is precious, because it’s teaching us about the relationship between stars and planets,” she says. “It’s really the starlight that sets the stage for the formation of life in the universe.”
Climate Change
Light Pollution Fighting to Protect Our Glorious Night Skies
TED Fellow Lucianne Walkowicz asks: How often do you see the true beauty of the night sky? In this talk, she shows how light pollution is ruining the extraordinary—and often ignored—experience of seeing directly into space, and why it’s such a dangerous new phenomenon. With humor and grace, Walkowicz urges her audience to get outside, and look up: it’s not just scientists who discover new stars in the sky, or appreciate the beauty of the vastness of our universe. Anyone willing to leave the city temporarily in search of darker pastures, or those that crane their necks in search of one or two twinkling lights, need to know what they can do to keep keep clear. “Like any natural resource, if we don’t protect it, if we don’t preserve it and treasure it, it will slip away from us and be gone.”