Stars Road

Speakers & Topics

Reva Kay Williams

From Supermassive Stars to Quasars: Production of Stardust: The Seeds of Life in the Universe

Dr. Reva Kay Williams is a research assistant professor at University of Toledo. She is the nation’s first Black female theoretical astrophysicist. She is an expert on black hole physics and the first person to successfully work out the Penrose mechanism to extract energy from a rotating black hole using Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, thus, explaining how quasars are powered. Dr. Williams attended Northwestern University as an undergraduate and received her Ph.D. from Indiana University, Bloomington. She was awarded a Ford Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Florida.

AbSciCon Presidential Speaker Reva Kay Williams

Sian Proctor

Dr. Proctor is a geoscientist, explorer, and science communication specialist with a passion for space exploration. Her motto is called Space2inspire where she encourages people to use their unique, one-of-a-kind strengths, and passion to inspire those within their reach and beyond. She’s an analog astronaut and has completed four analog missions including the all-female SENSORIA Mars 2020 mission at the Hawaii's Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS); Habitat, the NASA funded 4-month Mars mission at HI-SEAS, a 2-week Mars mission at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS); and a 2-week Moon mission in the LunAres Habitat. She believes that when we solve for space, we also solve issues on Earth.

Dr. Sian Proctor

Betül Kaçar

Dr. Betül Kaçar is an astrobiologist and molecular biologist with research interests in early evolution and origins of life, artificial biology, deep-time biosignatures and finding life on other planets. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona at Departments of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Astronomy and Planetary Sciences. She joined the University of Arizona in Fall 2017. Her research group builds molecular time machines to explore and attempt to resurrect lost histories to understand why biology is the way it is today and to compare ancient biology to potential life signatures of life elsewhere in the Universe. 

Dr. Kaçar was named a Scialog Fellow of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement of Heising-Simons Foundation and Kavli Foundation to study the Biosignatures and Life in the Universe in 2020. She was named a NASA Early Career Fellow in 2019, and a Way Cool Scientist by the Science Club for Girls in 2017. Her research has gained national and international attention, and was featured by the United Nations, SXSW, CNN, BBC, NOVA Science, Discover Magazine, NPR Science Friday as well as Scientific American.

Betul Kacar

Ken Williford

Ken Williford serves as the Deputy Project Scientist for the NASA Mars 2020 mission, and is the director of the JPL Astrobiogeochemistry Laboratory (abcLab). Research in the abcLab is broadly concerned with tracing the flow of biologically important elements (e.g. C, H, O, N, S) through Earth systems. To do this, we use the tools of "biogeochemistry" - uncovering the chemical traces of life (bio) preserved in Earth materials (geo) - within the context of astrobiology (the search for life on other planets). In recent years, Williford has focused on developing analytical techniques to search for signs of life and environment in some of the oldest rocks on Earth. Fossils are very rare in these rocks, and those that do exist are almost always microscopic. In the abcLab at JPL, Ken studies the biogeochemistry of ancient Earth rocks in part to understand how we can apply similar techniques to the search for evidence of life on other planets - in rocks returned to Earth from the surface of Mars, for example.


Ken Williford

Nicole King

Choanoflagellates as simple models for animal origins, development, and physiology

Prof. Nicole King is an evolutionary biologist and geneticist whose research addresses animal origins and mechanisms underlying host-microbe interactions. To these ends, members of the King laboratory studies choanoflagellates, a fascinating group of organisms that are the closest living relatives of animals. Prof. King is a Professor of Genetics, Genomics, and Development at the University of California, Berkeley and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She has been recognized as a MacArthur Fellow, a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, and a Senior Fellow in the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

Nicole King