Jacob T VanderPlas
Contact InformationEmail: vanderplas@astro
Office : B337
Phone : 206.543.2922
Fax : 206.685.0403
Dept. of Astronomy
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195-1580
3910 15th Ave NE
Seattle, WA 98195-1580
After completing my undergraduate studies in Physics at Calvin College, I took a few years off before returning to academia. In those years I lived in Sendai, Japan, where I taught English at a non-profit student center, then returned to the US and spent two years as an outdoor educator with Mount Hermon Outdoor Science School (just outside Santa Cruz, CA) and Summit Adventure (just outside Yosemite). Those two years working and teaching outdoors among the Redwoods, Sequoias, granite peaks, and dark skies rekindled my interest in science in general, and Astronomy in particular. I began my doctoral studies at the UW in 2006. When not working on my research, I enjoy growing food in my garden, training and competing in local triathlons, and playing bluegrass mandolin.
Research InterestsI started my PhD with a vague interest in cosmology, and a hope to land in an institution with the resources to learn more. UW has offered plenty of opportunities in that area.
Type Ia Supernovae
Machine Learning/Open Source Software
Thesis Project: Weak Gravitational Lensing
Astronomy Education: UW Planetarium
After beginning my graduate studies, I quickly became involved in the SDSS-II supernova team. The project had the advantage of being very sensitive to events in the so-called "redshift desert" between z=0.05 and z=0.4. Under the guidance of PI Rick Kessler, we used the first-year results as a background to do the first serious studies of systematic errors between two of the leading light-curve fitters. It was a long slog, but as one well-known supernova researcher recently told me, "someone had to do it. I'm just glad it wasn't me".
In 2008 I began exploring a nonlinear dimensionality reduction technique called Locally Linear Embedding (LLE). LLE has been broadly studied in various fields relating to computer perception. We showed that it is useful in processing galaxy spectra. In particular, the dimensionality reduction is sensitive to nonlinear effects that are lost by more familiar techniques such as PCA. The LLE code I developed is publicly available within the SSG pages. In addition, this interest in machine learning and data visualization has led to my involvement in a number of python open source packages, including contribution of efficient sparse matrix routines in scipy and contribution of a host of supervised and unsupervised machine learning algorithms to scikit-learn. I am actively involved as a member of the scikit-learn organization, collaborating regularly with CS researchers from around the world in porting efficient machine learning algorithms to python.
Mentored by Andrew Connolly and Bhuvnesh Jain (U.Penn), my thesis research involves efficient algorithms for the extraction of cosmological information from weak lensing shear data. Leveraging fast matrix-manipulation algorithms, we have re-expressed many aspects of the problem in terms of linear systems, which can be solved very quickly. My work has addressed 3D tomographic mass-mapping, interpolation of masked shear fields, improved signal-to-noise filtering in shear peak statistics, and alternative methods of obtaining cosmological parameter constraints from two-point information of shear observations. Currently I am working with collaborators from the Dark Energy Survey weak lensing group to apply these methods to a larger array of simulated and observed data.
Since 2007, I have been involved in the University of Washington Planetarium in a variety of positions. For two years, I oversaw our K-12 outreach program, providing free planetarium shows to school groups from the greater Seattle area. More recently, I have managed and coordinated the installation of a new digital projection system in our planetarium, based on World Wide Telescope in collaboration with Microsoft Research (see a feature on the project here). Through these opportunities, I have had the chance to facilitate hands-on exploration of the universe with thousands of people both in Seattle and around the country. Though I've moved on from my official coordination role in the planetarium outreach program, I still volunteer regularly, giving presentations to visiting K-12 school groups.