Incoming geophysical sciences postdoctoral researcher selected for the Heising-Simons Foundation 51 Pegasi b Fellowship

March 31, 2021

Incoming geophysical sciences postdoctoral researcher selected for the Heising-Simons Foundation 51 Pegasi b Fellowship

Fellowship provides exceptional postdoctoral scientists with the opportunity to conduct theoretical, observational, and experimental research in planetary astronomy

Ellen Price, Heising-Simons Foundation fellowship recipient in front of a building with blue sky

The Heising-Simons Foundation today announced astrophysicist Ellen Price, Harvard PhD‘21, as a recipient of the 51 Pegasi b Fellowship. She is among eight fellows selected for 2021. Price will be joining the University of Chicago Department of the Geophysical Sciences in the Fall term as a postdoctoral researcher as part of the fellowship, which is named for the first exoplanet discovered orbiting a Sun-like star.

The 51 Pegasi b Fellowship provides up to $375,000 of support for independent research over three years; time and space to establish distinction and leadership in the field; mentorship by an established faculty member at the host institution; and an annual summit to develop professional networks, exchange information and ideas, and foster collaboration.

The Heising-Simons Foundation is dedicated to supporting the growing field of planetary astronomy studies objects both within and beyond our solar system, bridging planetary science and astronomy. From improving our understanding of planetary system formation and evolution, to advancing new technologies for detecting other worlds, 51 Pegasi b Fellows make a unique contribution to the field.

Price optimizes computational methods to address questions in planet formation and said she thrives most when tackling complex problems with big picture implications. As a theorist, she uses her mathematical intuition and computer programming talents to create simulations that explore the diverse outcomes of planetary formation. “One of the overarching themes of my work is that simple is better than complex. My simulations provide results that are easy to analyze, and serve as a good benchmark for more complex approaches,” she said.

The focus of her work is protoplanetary disks—the birthplaces of planets. Using highly efficient code, she simulates how the disk materials evolve over time and at multiple scales, from miniscule grains to giant planets. Her work reduces the time it takes to make realistic evolving disk models, and arrives as the field looks to interpret data from impending space missions. “The thing that fascinates me about protoplanetary discs is the truly incredible problem of different time and spatial scales merging together,” she said. “Understanding the interplay of grains and pebbles would be a huge step forward.”

In her fellowship, Price will extend her code to model the chemical reactions that occur as the rocky cores of planets materialize within a protoplanetary disk. Simulating the ways dust and gas interact within these environments advances the field by making an inventory of the chemical building blocks of planets as they grow. Results of her research will not only help interpret observations from the James Webb Space Telescope, but also unleash the full potential of lab data already available.

“As we wait for the James Webb Space Telescope to launch, we can use observations and lab data on hand to explore the features of protoplanetary disks that are way more complicated than we ever thought,” she said.

The other fellows selected nationwide for the 2021 class include:

Luke Bouma, California Institute of Technology
Melodie Kao, University of California, Santa Cruz
Brianna Lacy, University of Texas at Austin
Emily Martin, University of California, Santa Cruz
Rachael Roettenbacher, Yale University
Samantha Trumbo, Cornell University
Yifan Zhou, University of Texas at Austin

To learn more about the fellowship and the fellows, visit

The Heising-Simons Foundation is a family foundation based in Los Altos and San Francisco, California. The Foundation works with its many partners to advance sustainable solutions in climate and clean energy, enable groundbreaking research in science, enhance the education of our youngest learners, and support human rights for all people. Learn more at

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