Meet Alice Luna, Astronomy and Astrophysics

January 31, 2024

Alice Luna

Born in Curaçao and raised in Mexico and Texas, Alice Luna received her BS in Astronomy and Physics from The University of Texas at Austin. Currently a third-year PhD student in Astronomy and Astrophysics, she has been analyzing spectroscopic data from telescopes at Las Campanas Observatory to study the metallicity distributions of ultra-faint dwarf galaxies that provide archaeological access to the first stars and galaxies. We interviewed Alice about her experiences at UChicago.

Why did you choose the University of Chicago?

I wanted to join the Near-Field Cosmology group led by Assistant Professor Alexander Ji because of my interest in studying the Milky Way and its surrounding dwarf galaxies.

Please describe something you are proud of accomplishing at UChicago.

After observing remotely for the majority of the program, I was finally able to travel to Las Campanas Observatory in Chile for a week. I observed for three full nights and learned about the different instruments and telescopes on the mountain. It was an amazing opportunity that helped me gain more confidence in my observing skills.

I am also really proud of being awarded the PSD Inclusive Climate Grant in collaboration with Gage Park Latinx Council (GPLXC) to hold an “Astronomy Day/Día de Astronomía” in Chicago’s southwest community of Gage Park to inspire young children and families and show them fascinating topics in astronomy.

What has been your most memorable class and why?

Cosmology II with Professor Dan Hooper, who is really good at explaining difficult topics of the early universe in an accessible way for students to understand.

What is your favorite restaurant or food truck in Hyde Park? What is your favorite dish?

Huaraches is a great restaurant in Hyde Park. I love the flautas with agua de jamaica.

Alice Luna holding Penelope the cat
Penelope, one member of Alice’s feline musical audience.

What is your favorite campus spot and why?

The Harper Quadrangle because it is where I often unwind after a stressful day by listening to Phoebe Bridgers’s entire discography.

What’s something you love to do outside of the classroom and lab?

I love going to all the independent bookstores that Chicago has to offer. My favorite is Exile in Bookville. In addition to reading, I enjoy going to concerts so I’ve recently started learning to play the bass with my cats as my only audience.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done in the city so far?

Last year, I went to a premiere of an indie film at the Music Box Theatre in Lakeview. I found out about the premiere super late and didn’t know much about the film but still went and ended up discovering a fun queer Latinx horror comedy called Departing Seniors.

What support have you received at UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?

My research group has provided a very supportive and welcoming environment that I’ve been able to grow in. I’m also grateful for the friends I have made in my program who understand how stressful the program's demands can be and have helped me manage it better.

Alice and two friends in front of SUE the T. rex at the Field Museum
Alice at the Field Museum for the Gargoyle Gala 2023 with fellow research group members Daisy Bissonette (left) and Pierre Thibodeaux (center).

How has your background or experience prepared you to contribute to an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued?

While I was growing up, my family heavily relied on the community for support such as back-to-school drives for free school supplies. I benefited from the hard work that others put in and I want to give back by creating opportunities that will be beneficial to communities that helped me get where I am today.

What advice or insights do you have for new or prospective Maroons?

Chicago is such an amazing city with all sorts of things to do. I find it really important to get to know the city and community you get to live in.

What are your plans post-UChicago?

I want to combine the knowledge I’ve gained from the program with my outreach and mentoring experiences and apply it to museum education. I hope to work at a planetarium or museum.

If you could choose one word to describe the University of Chicago, what would it be?


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