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. 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.

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.

Deryl Long

Deryl Long joined the UVa Astro Graduate program in 2020 and is presently working on constraining the ionization chemistry of a nearby planet forming disk with a wide inner clearing to better understand how disk geometry determines the ionization fraction of a young disk.

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.

Ellen Price

Ellen Price is a final-year graduate student at Harvard working with Karin Oberg and myself. She is modeling 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.

Post-Baccalaureate Researchers

Fatimah Hussein

Fatimah Hussein joined the Cleeves group in Fall 2020 via 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.

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.

Dr. Dana Anderson

Dr. Dana Anderson joined the group in Fall 2019 from Caltech Planetary Science. 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. During her time at Caltech, she also conducted laboratory experiments with the ChemCam team simulating martian conditions to determine our sensitivity when inferring compositional data from Mars-based experiments, including the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover.

Undergraduate Researchers

Jee-Ho Kim

Jee-Ho Kim is a second year undergraduate at UVa 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.

Colette Levens

Colette Levens is a final year undergraduate at Mary Baldwin University majoring in applied mathematics and minoring in physics. She has carried out work with the Cleeves Group under the supervision of Dr. Ballering to investigate the dusty disk of the white dwarf system G29-38, which shows a peculiar SED.

Group Alums

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.

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.