As an academic research scientist, Dr. Abbie Stevens studies black holes and neutron stars with rapid variability signals coming from matter in their strong gravitational fields, to probe how matter behaves in extreme environments and look for signatures of general relativity. In short, the wibbly-wobbly X-rays tell us about stuff in super-strong gravity.
One of her favorite aspects of being a scientist is talking with school and community groups about astronomy, physics, and space science. She also loves incorporating scientific concepts in art via hands-on workshops, performances/ presentations, consulting on creative projects, and giving popular science talks to a variety of audiences.
East Lansing, Michigan (2018-now)
Abbie lives in mid-Michigan — if you hold out your right hand (fingers together, thumb apart) as the lower peninsula of Michigan, the Lansing area is in the center of your palm. Pre-COVID, she spent one day a week at U of M in Ann Arbor and the rest of the week at MSU. Dr. Stevens is on the astro seminar committee and APS-IDEAS team at MSU, and she’s presented public astronomy talks at Astronomy on Tap Lansing, the MSU Science Festival, and the Abrams Planetarium. She also sings alto in the MSU physics choir.
On the right is her sweet rescue dog, Nova. In astronomy, a nova is an explosion from nuclear fusion on the surface of a white dwarf (our Sun will eventually become a white dwarf). Of course the dog needed a nerdy name!
Amsterdam, the Netherlands (2013-2017)
In April 2018 Abbie completed her PhD in astronomy with Phil Uttley at the Anton Pannekoek Institute, University of Amsterdam. She was a Nerd Nite Amsterdam boss, founding member and chair of the API PhD and Postdoc Council, and organizer for journal club and Timing Club. Her research is described more here, and her PhD thesis is available online here.
Abbie really enjoyed living in Amsterdam for 4+ years (in Oost, Indische Buurt, and Diemen), and she compiled an Amsterdam travel guide you should look at if you’re visiting there! Her blog post on cycling/biking through the tulip fields is especially popular.
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (2011-2013)
Abbie lived in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for two years while working towards an MSc in astrophysics at the University of Alberta with Sharon Morsink, and she defended in August 2013. Her thesis research involved simulating light curves from thermonuclear X-ray burst oscillations from accreting neutron stars and fitting the pulse profiles with an evolutionary optimization algorithm. TL,DR: some parameters pretend to be other parameters, so it’s hard to get the right answer even when you know what it is. Her MSc thesis is available here and the paper that came out of this work is available here.
While in Edmonton, Abbie was a part of the Assiniboia Community Housing Co-operative (yes, a hippie housing co-op). Some members briefly worked on on an archive of the co-op’s rich history, which you can read here.
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York (2007-2011)
Dr. Stevens completed her undergrad at Bard College, a very small, very liberal arts school in upstate New York, majoring in physics and minoring in mathematics. In her senior year she completed an undergraduate thesis in general relativity exploring how the equations that govern motion in strong gravity would be different in a universe that was two-dimensional. TL,DR: black holes couldn’t exist in a flat 2-D universe 😢 Her whole bachelors thesis is available online here. Abbie received a Bachelor of Arts in May 2011.
At Bard, Abbie was also involved in theater and choir. She was in Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, two opera choruses (David Bruce’s A Bird In Your Ear and Maurice Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortileges), an opera workshop piece, two 24-hour theater festivals, and a staged cantata. She also sang in the Chamber Singers for 4 semesters. Abbie started off as a theater major, but after her first semester in college she missed doing math and computer programming (yes, it surprised her too). She ultimately decided to to make a career out of physics and astronomy research and do some theater and singing as a hobby, than to try to make a living as an actor and do recreational observational astrophysics (which isn’t a thing).
Rochester, New York (birth-2007)
Originally from Rochester, NY, Abbie graduated from the International Baccalaureate program at Wilson Magnet High School in 2007. At Wilson, she was actively involved in Girls’ Varsity Swimming and Drama/Video Club (now Dream Visualize Create, a community theater group).
In her spare time, Abbie enjoys knitting, listening to podcasts, watching tv (usually sci-fi/action/political/thriller), home design, internet memes, and cute animals. She loves to go on long walks and casual bike rides, and she’s done a lot of yoga and some powerlifting over the years. Her favorite recently-read fiction book is Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler, and her favorite recently-read nonfiction book is Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen. She drinks a lot of tea, and finally got a fancy electric kettle that keeps the water at right temperature. Before COVID, Abbie travelled often (for work and for fun), and her favorite places to visit in a new city are the natural history museum, the nicest park, and a good tea shop. Her blog, updated sporadically, is a mishmash of astronomy/academia, coding/tech, and other things.