About Us

L. Ilsedore (Ilse) Cleeves

My name is Lauren Ilsedore Cleeves (Ilse), and I am an Assistant Professor of Astronomy jointly appointed in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Virginia. I am also an Adjunct Assistant Astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Charlottesville, VA. Prior to joining UVa in 2018, I was a NASA Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow in the Radio & Geoastronomy Division of the Center for Astrophysics. 

My work has focused on bringing together and reconciling theoretical models of the chemistry of planet formation with observational constraints from ground and space based observatories. In addition to clues from the astronomical data, our group endeavors to connect all scales by incorporating our knowledge of the primitive solar nebula from the cometary and meteoritic record. 

Graduate Students

Abygail Waggoner

Abby Waggoner joined the UVa Chemistry department in Fall 2018, coming from Ball State University. During the 2017 Summer SAO REU program she investigated how bright X-ray flares might produce abundant bursts of water in the surface of protoplanetary disks, which has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. She is continuing this research to investigate how energetic events across the spectrum can influence the chemistry of disks, and by extension forming planets within them. She is also a writer for the science blog Astrobites.

Deryl Long

Deryl Long joined the UVa Astro Graduate program in 2020 and is interested understanding key processes that alter the composition of the planet-forming region of disks - the midplane. Specifically Deryl uses novel observational and modeling techniques to ilucidate the key ionization mechanisms active in the midplane using a combination of spatially resolved data and large disk samples, through the ALMA Disk-Exoplanet C/Onnection (DECO) Large Program.

Rachel Erin Gross

Rachel Gross joined the UVa Chemistry program in Fall 2020 as a UVa Origins Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellow and is investigating the role of environment, especially external ultraviolet radiation, in setting the chemistry of planet forming disks. In collaboration with Cathy Dukes Lab in the UVA School of Engineering, Dept. of Materials Science, Rachel (co-supervised by Dr. Jeroen Terwisscha van Scheltinga) have recently built an ice experimental set up for exploring photo and particle driven solid-phase chemistry.

Amina Diop

Amina Diop joined the Cleeves group in Fall 2021. She is presently working on using astrochemical models of protoplanetary disks and machine learning techniques to understand the impact of the interplay between chemical and physical processes on CO chemistry. In the future, she is planning to use a combination of observations, astrochemical models, and machine learning to constrain accurately key disk properties such as disk masses and C/O ratios. She is also part of the ALMA DECO team.

Renato Mazzei

Renato Mazzei joined the group in Fall 2018, co-advised with UVa Professor Zhi-Yun Li. He recently investigated future prospects for constraining magnetic fields in planet-forming disks using the Zeeman Effect with the Atacama Large Millimeter Array. In addition, he is using models to predict the observable polarization properties of magnetic fields threading larger scale molecular clouds, to compare to future BLASTPOL observations. Together, Renato will observationally constrain magnetic fields on all scales relevant for star and planet formation.

Post-Baccalaureate Researchers

Amanda Alvarado

Amanda Alvarado joined the UVa Chemistry department in Fall 2022 as a Bridge to the Doctorate Fellow. She has a Master’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico, where she had previously carried out research on the spectroscopy and mapping of water lines in star formation regions. Currently at the Cleeves group, she is modeling the structure of protoplanetary disks in order to explore the relationship between disk morphology and its spectra.

Postdoctoral Researchers

Dr. Nicholas Ballering

Dr. Nick Ballering arrived to UVa as a VICO Postdoctoral Fellow in 2019. Nick is an expert on understanding the architectures and compositions of debris disks using a wide range of wavelength from Hubble Space Telescope to ALMA. He also works on younger disks still in the gas-rich phase via a survey of the young stars in Orion with ALMA with an eye toward understanding them as population. Now he is applying his expertise on solid state opacities to make observational predictions for ice composition(s) of disks with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

Undergraduate Researchers

Becky Williams

Becky Williams is a third year undergraduate at UVa double majoring in astronomy and biology. She began working with the group through the 2022 VICO Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship Program, searching for weak emission from molecular oxygen in the protoplanetary disk around TW Hya. She is now modeling sulfur chemistry in disks to identify possible major sulfur-carrying species.

Jackson Baker

Jackson Baker is a fourth-year undergraduate at UVa double majoring in Astronomy and Environmental Sciences. He joined the Cleeves Group as part of the Undergraduate Thesis program and is carrying out work under the supervision of Ilse Cleeves. He is investigating the current understanding of sulfur molecules in space and their reactions in order to help build a more comprehensive database for sulfur astrochemistry, which presently does not exist.

Group Alums

Dr. Jeroen Terwisscha van Scheltinga

Dr. Jeroen Terwisscha van Scheltinga was part of the Cleeves group from January 2022 through March 2023. Jeroen is an expert in laboratory astrochemistry and in observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, in particular in understanding the origins of organic molecules in disks using their ortho/para spins as a diagnostic of formation environment.

Dr. Dana Anderson

Dr. Dana Anderson was part of the group from 2019-2022. She received her PhD from Caltech in the GPS department. Dana is an expert in chemical modeling and radio observations of protoplanetary disks. Lately, she has been interested in the carbon and nitrogen depletion problem seen both in primordial disks as well as in solar system bodies. Dana is now a Carnegie EPL Postdoctoral Fellow in Washington, DC.

Jee-Ho Kim (UVa Astronomy Undergraduate)

Jee-Ho Kim a final year UVa undergraduate double majoring in Astro and Media Studies. She joined the group via the 2020 Summer VICO Research Fellowship Program and continued work into the academic year. Jee-Ho is an expert in searching for asymmetric emission against a bright background with the hopes of finding young embedded protoplanets that are otherwise difficult to see. 

Dr. Ellen Price

Dr. Ellen Price is a 51 Peg B fellow at U Chicago. Formerly she was a graduate student at Harvard working with Karin Oberg and myself. She modelled how the nature of gas accretion in disks can alter the disk's composition over time by transporting more or less volatile materials into different regions. By taking into account the viscous evolution of the disk and the time evolving properties of the young star, Ellen finds organic molecules can become enhanced in the inner few AU of disks, i.e., the terrestrial planet forming region. More recently, Ellen has investigating the chemical implications of radial pebble drift on ice composition in disks. 

Colette Levens (Mary Baldwin University Undergraduate)

Colette Levens worked with the Cleeves group while an undergraduate at Mary Baldwin University majoring in applied mathematics and minoring in physics. Under the supervision of Dr. Ballering, Colette investigated the dusty disk of the white dwarf system G29-38, which shows a peculiar SED. 

Richard Seifert (UVa Astronomy MS, 2020)

Richard Seifert joined the UVA astronomy department and the Cleeves group in Fall 2018 coming from UT Austin, where he majored in Astrophysics and Mathematics. While at UT, he looked at the z>2 COSMOS field in 850μm to see how galaxy cluster formation affects the molecular gas content of galaxies, and wrote a python reduction pipeline for the Hydra multi-object spectrograph at Kitt Peak. As part of the Cleeves Group, he modeled the ionization chemistry of the enigmatic IM Lup system with the goal of mapping its disk ionization fraction. With data science training obtained in part at UVa he will be starting a position as a Data Scientist at General Motors, Austin in Spring 2021.

Fatimah Hussein

Fatimah Hussein was part of the Cleeves group from 2020-2021 as part of UVa's newly established Bridge to the Doctorate Program. She graduated in Fall 2020 from the University of the Virgin Islands, where she had previously carried out research on implications for C/O ratios with Dr. Christian Eistrup (through the VICO Summer Research Program). At UVa she is exploring how accretion outbursts 'leave their mark' on late phase protoplanetary disk chemistry via computational models. 

Matthew Jones (UVa Chemistry Undergraduate)

Matt Jones worked with the Cleeves Group over Summer 2019 as part of the VICO Undergraduate Summer Research Program. The core goal of this research was to understand the strange organic ratio present in the TW Hya protoplanetary disk. He presented his findings at the end of the Summer program.

Dave Gutierrez  (UVa Astronomy Undergraduate)

Dave Gutierrez worked with the Cleeves Group in Fall 2019. Dave explored the peculiar ammonia to water ratio observed with the Herschel Space Observatory in the TW Hya protoplanetary disk. The ratio observed in this disk was inconsistent with the ratios seen in interstellar clouds and comets. Dave found that the surface chemistry of the disk was likely not an accurate representation of the midplane, which he wrote up as his undergraduate thesis at UVa.

Chris Pede  (UVa Chemistry Undergraduate)

Christopher Pede worked with the Cleeves Group in Fall and Spring 2020. Chris set out to chemically map out the distribution of species like N2H+ and HCN in the TW Hya disk. He investigated whether a smooth scale emission pattern could be consistent with the observations of HCN, and instead found that there may be some underlying symmetric ring-like structure.