AAVSO 111th Annual Meeting: keynote speakers

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Meet the Keynote Speakers:


Dr. James Clem Dr. Liliana Rivera Sandoval Dr. Misty Bentz Sean Walker
A smiling clean-shaven man in a suit and tie in front of full bookcases A young woman with purple-dyed hair in glasses A young smiling woman with straight hair, wearing a tee-shirt in front of a tree   

Grove City College

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Georgia State University

Sky &Telescope Magazine


Dr. James Clem

is an associate professor of Physics at Grove City College, who earned his PhD in Physics from the University of Victoria. His main focuses are multi-wavelength, photometric properties of stellar populations (star clusters) in the Milky Way Galaxy, with the aim of gathering a better understanding of our galaxy's evolution. 


"Arlo U Landolt (1935-2022): A Life Above Standards"

To many professional and amateur astronomers, the name Arlo Landolt is commonly associated with standard stars. However, few realize that he made many other contributions to the astronomical community beyond “his” invaluable photometric standards, and even fewer got to experience the man as a mentor, colleague, and dear friend, as I did. I intend to honor the man (and the legend) by offering a personal perspective on his research career in the more recent years before his passing, and strive to convey how truly unique of a life he lived.


Dr. Liliana Rivera Sandoval

is an assistant professor at the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). She works on multiwavelength studies of transient sources and binaries with stellar remnants in different environments. 


"Outbursts in ultracompact white dwarf binaries: powerful tools to understand their interaction processes"

Ultracompact white dwarf binaries, or AM CVns, have orbits of less than 70 min., and a fraction of that class of binaries shows outbursts. Until recently, instabilities in the accretion disk were commonly invoked to explain the origin of these accretion-related phenomena. In this talk, I will discuss how traditional models have been challenged, and how our understanding of outbursts in AM CVns has recently changed thanks to continuous photometric observations of the known systems with ground- and space-based telescopes. I will describe how observers everywhere can contribute to investigate these interacting binaries. I will also address the importance of considering additional mechanisms to disk instabilities in order to quantify their influence on AM CVn evolution, and the impact these mechanisms might have on the detection rate of AM CVns with upcoming photometric surveys and gravitational wave observatories.


Dr. Misty Bentz

is a professor of Physics and Astronomy at Georgia State University. As an astrophysicist, she specializes in ground- and space-based imaging and spectroscopy, with a focus on accreting supermassive black holes. Her work utilizes several well-known telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Gemini Observatory, and the Apache Point Observatory, and her research program is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA. Dr. Bentz is the Principal Investigator for an Early Release Science program with the James Webb Space Telescope, making her one of the first astronomers in the world to test out the capabilities of NASA’s newest flagship mission. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a NASA Hubble Fellowship and the GSU Outstanding Faculty Achievement Award. Dr. Bentz has published over 100 peer-reviewed publications, and her work has been cited more than 7,500 times. In the media, she has been featured by outlets such as National Geographic, Popular Science, Business Insider, Mashable, Gizmodo, Georgia Magazine, and WABE Atlanta.


"Measuring the Masses of Monster Black Holes"

One of the lasting legacies of the Hubble Space Telescope is the discovery that every galaxy has a supermassive black hole lurking in its center. Furthermore, these black holes and their host galaxies seem to have a symbiotic relationship in which they grow and evolve together over cosmic time. One of the keys to understanding this relationship involves measuring the masses of the black holes, and thus, constraining the strength of their influence. However, weighing an invisible object in the center of a galaxy that is millions or billions of light years away is difficult. I will describe one of the main techniques that has been developed for this purpose over the last 30 years, reverberation mapping, in which light echoes are used to probe the hot gas in the gravitational field of an accreting supermassive black hole. I will also highlight the ways in which monitoring with broad-band photometry on small telescopes can particularly contribute to the advancement of knowledge in this area. Ultimately, the observational study of black holes allows us to develop a clearer picture of the formation and evolution of galaxies, including our own Milky Way, over the 13 billion year history of our universe.


Sean Walker

is an Associate Editor at Sky & Telescope Magazine specializing in astro-imaging techniques. A classically trained artist, he graduated from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 1996 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting, while spending any clear night pursuing comets, galaxies, and star clusters using any optic he could commandeer to achieve his goals. 


"MDW Hydrogen-Alpha Sky Survey"

Sky & Telescope Associate Editor Sean Walker shares the story of the development and current progress of the MDW Sky Survey, an all-sky mapping project undertaken by a trio of New England amateurs, including David Mittelman and Dennis di Cicco, using a pair of remotely operated telescopes currently situated at the New Mexico Skies facility in Mayhill, New Mexico. Sean will detail how the survey operates, several discoveries the team has contributed to, and its upcoming plans to publicly release the data in partnership with Columbia University and the Mittelman Family Foundation.