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

April 3, 2023

The Heising-Simons Foundation announced Maria Steinrueck, PhD in Planetary Sciences, University of Arizona, as a recipient of the 51 Pegasi b Fellowship. She is among eight fellows selected for 2023.

While majoring in physics with a focus on particle physics as an undergraduate student, Maria Steinrueck encountered a team studying exoplanet atmospheres and recalled her own excitement, years earlier, when exoplanet winds were first measured. It was enough to change her course as a scholar and professional. Today, Maria examines how clouds and hazes impact a planet’s atmospheric circulation, temperatures, and transmission and emission spectra. 

Maria Steinrueck working in front of a blackboard

Photochemical hazes, born of UV reactions with molecules such as methane, can significantly distort or mute the chemical signatures observed and used to characterize a planet. In a first for her field, Maria developed a three-dimensional climate model that predicts the location of photochemical hazes in the atmospheres of Hot Jupiters, the largest and most extensively described exoplanets to date. “We knew that photochemical hazes exist on exoplanets”, she said. “But nobody had examined what they do in three dimensions. We had only one-dimensional models, which cannot describe the weather of a planet fully.”

During her fellowship, Maria will model 3D atmospheric circulation for a wide variety of exoplanets, determining how haze particles mix and move across different planetary conditions. Included in this exploration will be cooler, smaller planets closer in size to Neptune and Earth, which are increasingly observable through next-generation telescopes. Maria’s modeling will improve the accuracy of interpreting these observations, for a clearer picture of distant planets more like our own. 

Prior to starting her 51 Pegasi b Fellowship, Maria will continue to work as the Atmospheric Physics of Exoplanets Prize Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.

The other fellows selected nationwide for the 2023 class include:

  • Juliana García-Mejía, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Huazhi Ge, California Institute of Technology

  • Akash Gupta, Princeton University

  • Rixin Li, University of California, Berkeley

  • Ben K. D. Pearce, Johns Hopkins University

  • Samuel Yee, Harvard University

  • Yapeng Zhang, California Institute of Technology

To learn more about the fellowship and the fellows, visit

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