University of Texas at Austin Astronomer Sally Dodson-Robinson Receives Prestigious Career Grant from National Science Foundation

University of Texas at Austin Assistant Professor Sally Dodson-Robinson has received a Faculty Early Career Development award of $363,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Sally Dodson-Robinson

These prestigious NSF awards, called CAREER grants, recognize promising young faculty members and support their research and education missions with five years of funding. Dodson-Robinson has so far been awarded $363,000 in support of her research program called "Giant Planets in Dusty Disks."

"I am excited to receive the CAREER grant because I now have the resources to answer so many questions about how planets grow," said Dodson-Robinson. "To me, the most compelling part of astronomy has always been the existence of other worlds. Now my job is to investigate the fundamental question of how such worlds come to exist. To spend my time the way I do is an incredible privilege."

Dodson-Robinson will investigate how tiny, micrometer-size dust grains in planet nurseries affect the growth and development of gas giants the largest planets our galaxy can build. Although current theories of planet growth see dust grains as beneficial seed material for planet growth, Dodson-Robinson's research indicates that too high a concentration of dust grains can stop planet growth in its tracks. Dust grains of a particular chemical composition can even switch the planet growth process from a slow buildup of material that takes several million years to an instantaneous gravitational collapse of the entire planet nursery.

The CAREER grant also includes funding for the New Orbits educational program, in which Dodson-Robinson will build a learning community centered on planetary science for a group of 20 first-year college students. The program is designed to help incoming students feel confident in their ability to pursue careers in science. The capstone of the program will be a yearly field trip to the university's McDonald Observatory to learn about historic and ongoing planetary research there.

Dodson-Robinson came to the university in 2009 and teaches courses in planetary science and general astronomy. She received her doctorate from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2008, and a bachelor's degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2002. She has held the Spitzer Space Telescope Postdoctoral Fellowship and the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.