Natalie Batalha, a NASA scientist who earned her Ph.D. in astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, has been selected as the recipient of the 2018 UC Santa Cruz Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor bestowed on a graduate of the campus.The award will be presented at the Founders Celebration on Saturday, October 20. Batalha will also be joining the faculty of UCSC’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics this fall.
“I worked and lived here as a student and raised my children in UCSC’s Family Student Housing. I’m very excited to be coming back in this new role with two decades of experience under my belt, ready to give back to the academic community,” Batalha said. “It feels a lot like coming home.”
Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics, said Batalha is among the top planetary astronomers of her generation. “There is no question that Natalie is an outstanding scientist, but she is also a rare phenomenon, the kind of leader who comes along once in a generation. We need her vision, her energy, and her charisma here at UC Santa Cruz,” he said. “She will be a game changer for our campus.”
From 2011 to 2017, Batalha served as the science lead for NASA’s highly successful Kepler Mission, which discovered more than 2,500 exoplanets. In 2017, she was named to Time magazine’s list of the “100 most influential people in the world.”
Batalha earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at UC Berkeley and received her doctoral degree from UC Santa Cruz in 1997. After a post-doctoral fellowship in Brazil, she returned to California, taking a position at San Jose State University as a professor of astronomy and astrophysics and joining the exoplanet discovery team at NASA Ames Research Center led by space scientist William Borucki.
Borucki was working on transit photometry, then an emerging technology for finding exoplanets. …