Dr. Regina Jorgenson
Director of Astronomy
Born and raised in California, Regina first came to Nantucket as a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) intern under the tutelage of former Director of Astronomy, Dr. Vladimir Strelnitski. This formative experience helped inspire her to make a career out of her love for astronomy.
After completing her B.S. degree in Physics, Regina won a Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowship that supported her in a year-long adventure travelling around the world and investigating the effects of culture on science through the eyes of women astronomers.
In 1999, Regina returned to the MMA as the Assistant Director of Astronomy until 2002 when she left to pursue graduate studies in California. Regina earned her Ph.D. in Physics at UC San Diego, specializing in studies of galaxy formation and evolution. She continued this work as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge and then won a prestigious National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship that she took to the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawai’i. There she used the largest optical telescopes in the world to obtain the first spectral images of normal galaxies in the early Universe.
Before moving back to Nantucket, Regina was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics at Willamette University in Oregon.
Regina’s research interests include formation processes, primarily, galaxy formation and evolution. Driven by questions like, “How did our Milky Way Galaxy come to be?” and “How does gas turn into stars?” Regina uses a range of telescopes both on Earth and in space to track down the answers. She primarily uses a technique called quasar absorption line spectroscopy in which relatively bright and very distant quasars are used as beacons of light – much like lighthouses – to probe the space in between the quasar and Earth. As it turns out, this is an effective way to study the gas in galaxies that are so distant, their light is too faint to be seen directly. Instead, the gas in intervening galaxies absorbs some of the quasar light, leaving a fingerprint-like signature that can be used to unravel the mystery of those galaxies’ contents, and hence, their life stories.
A member of the American Astronomical Society, Regina serves as a manuscript referee for Nature, The Astrophysical Journal, and Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and sits on multiple Time Allocation Committees that award time on large telescopes.
Like Maria Mitchell, Regina is a strong advocate both for women in science and for Maria’s philosophy of “learning by doing,” and she spends time researching, mentoring, and speaking on these issues. Regina is dedicated to helping encourage young people in science. She regularly volunteers her time to speak in local schools, judge science fairs, and mentor students.
An avid runner, you may spot Regina out seeking new trails around the island.