Biography

Lehigh University Joshua PepperMy astronomy career started as an undergraduate at the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University.  For my junior-year projects, I worked with Professors Bohdan Paczynski and David Spergel, modeling the optical afterglows of Gamma-Ray Bursts.  For my senior thesis, I worked with Professor Michael Strauss to identify Active Galactic Nuclei in the commissioning data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

After graduating, I spent a year working as a business consultant in Manhattan at the AnswerThink corporation.  I then moved to Columbus, Ohio, to start my PhD at the Department of Astronomy at the Ohio State University.  My research soon focused on methods for detecting transiting planets.  I worked with Professor Andy Gould to determine how to detect transiting planets around bright stars, and our analysis showed that an inexpensive telescope configuration operating an all-sky survey could optimally detect these objects. 

Deciding (naively) that it would be straightforward to design, build, and deploy a robotic telescope, use it to conduct a survey, and gather, reduce, and analyze the data for my PhD, I worked with Andy and Professors Darren Depoy and Rick Pogge to build the KELT telescope.  Somehow, we managed to do it, and I then worked with Rick as my advisor, along with Professors Scott Gaudi and Kris Stanek to analyze the data to find exoplanets.  We did not find any new planets immediately.  That was because we had vastly underestimated the required signal for transit detection, along with the huge numbers of false positives, the rarity of the hot Jupiter planets we were trying to find, and systematic noise in wide-field surveys.  We did, however, detect large numbers of variable stars.

From OSU, I moved to the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University, where I became the VIDA postdoctoral fellow.  The VIDA program is the Vanderbilt Initiative in Data-intensive Astrophysics, run by Professor Keivan Stassun, which concentrates on astrophysical science that uses large data sets or amounts of computation.  At Vanderbilt, I built a twin of KELT, and deployed it to Sutherland, South Africa, where it became the KELT-South telescope, and the original telescope was renamed KELT-North.  By the end of my time at Vanderbilt, the KELT project began to bear fruit, with 4 planets discovered, more on the way, and an enormous amount of data that will be used for years to come.

In 2013, I moved to my current position as assistant professor in the Physics Department at Lehigh University.  Based on that experience I wrote a guide to Navigating the Faculty Job Search that you can find on the AstroBetter blog and wiki. I have an appointment at Vanderbilt University as an adjoint professor, and I am the director of the KELT-South telescope and a leader of the KELT survey.  Although KELT is the primary focus of my work, I also work in a number of other areas that relate to exoplanets and time-domain astronomy.  See my Research page for more details of my work.

 

© IMRC CAS 2016

Joshua Pepper  |  413 Deming Lewis Lab |   16 Memorial Drive East
Bethlehem, PA 18015  |  joshua.pepper@lehigh.edu  |  (610) 758-3649