January 11, 2025

Dr. Amber Straughn

NASA’s Search for Cosmic History

Journey back into the intergalactic dark ages with a NASA astrophysicist and the James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA’s Search for Cosmic History 

January 11, 2025

The launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in 2021 was one of the most remarkable engineering feats in human history. Three years in and a million miles away, the telescope is revolutionizing our understanding of the cosmos, which may leave humankind with more insight into our origins and our place in the universe. Astrophysicist Dr. Amber Straughn is no stranger to the expanse, having worked on the JWST project science team at Goddard Space Flight Center since long before its launch. Accompanied by stunning JWST-captured images, she will take us on a journey back into the cosmic dark ages, revealing the nature of exoplanets and galaxy formation of the early universe.

Format: Speech with Audience Q&A

“Telescopes are like time machines – they allow us to look into the past. The Webb Telescope will help us find the very first galaxies born after the Big Bang. We’re talking about looking back in time, over 13 and a half billion years into the past, to see those first galaxies.”

– Dr. Amber Straughn

About Dr. Amber Straughn

Dr. Amber Straughn is an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and is a member of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) science team. She also serves as the associate director of the Astrophysics Science Division.

Straughn grew up in the small farming town of Bee Branch, Arkansas, where her fascination with astronomy began under beautifully dark, rural skies. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in physics at the University of Arkansas and completed her master’s and doctoral degrees in physics at Arizona State University. She has been involved in NASA programs since her undergrad years, beginning with the time she flew an experiment on NASA’s microgravity KC-135 plane (the “vomit comet”).

Straughn is interested in how galaxies change over time. Specifically, how important are galaxy interactions in the overall picture of how galaxies grow? How do supermassive black holes, star formation, and gas inflows and outflows affect galaxy evolution over cosmic time? These questions are central to NASA’s long-term goal to discover how the universe works while exploring how it began and evolved.

In addition to research, Straughn’s role with the JWST science team involves public speaking and media engagement. She frequently speaks to large audiences in the United States and abroad. Straughn has appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” PBS’s “NOVA,” The Discovery Channel, The Science Channel, NatGeo, BBC, the History Channel, and NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”

Straughn lives in Maryland with her husband, Matt, and their two Great Danes. Her love of all things air and space prompted her to earn her private pilot’s license in 2013, and she is the owner of a Cessna 182. Straughn has been an active yoga practitioner since grad school, loves to hike, and is a fan of live music.

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