At last month’s Drake Awards ceremony, the SETI Institute also honored one of its own. Doug Caldwell joined the SETI Institute 20 years ago and made extraordinary contributions to one of the most extraordinary NASA missions of our time, the Kepler Mission. His peers at the SETI Institute give him the Carl Sagan Center Director's Award (CSC Director’s Award) for his significant scientific accomplishments and his role in making the SETI Institute a thriving scientific community as a team leader and co-chair of the exoplanet group on the CSC Science Council.
“Doug has accomplished so much,” said Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute, when she presented the award. “His work has been at the forefront of exoplanet exploration, particularly at the interface between instrumentation hardware and data analysis software. I want to say that it is a pleasure and an honor to have Doug with us at the SETI Institute. I want to thank him personally, but also on behalf of the Science Council, scientists at the SETI Institute, and the management team for how he represents the SETI Institute and our community.”
Caldwell is a research astrophysicist who focuses on optical and infrared astronomy, star formation and exoplanet detection. He's an expert on one of the most successful schemes for finding worlds beyond our solar system: looking for the dimming of a star caused when a planet crosses it and us. As a co-investigator on NASA's Kepler Mission, Caldwell was part of an endeavor that led to the discovery of 5,000 exoplanets and counting! He is continuing the hunt for exoplanets as part of the TESS Mission. Caldwell has worked to understand how instruments affect science data to improve data analysis and help scientists understand how data analysis impacts their science results.
“I am honored to be selected for the CSC Director’s Award, especially knowing all the amazing things my SETI Institute colleagues are working on,” said Caldwell. “I am privileged to have gotten the opportunity to work on a field at the start of an explosion of development and have some small hand in discovering two-thirds of the exoplanets known to date.”
Before Kepler's launch, Caldwell led the characterization of its photometer and the creation of its calibration models. He participated in instrument testing at NASA Ames Research Center and Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., analyzed test data, and provided instrument performance updates to the project and the science team. He worked to assess the risk to the mission of anomalies uncovered during testing, resolve anomalies where possible, and model the scientific impact and those deemed too costly or risky to fix.
Caldwell provided science support during the development and design phase of the Kepler Mission as part of a collaboration between NASA Ames and the SETI Institute. His responsibilities included developing and prototyping science analysis routines, defining Science Operations Center requirements, and developing Ground System operations scenarios.
Back on Earth, Caldwell was the Principal Investigator for a telescope to search for transiting extrasolar planets from the South Pole during two international deployments.
As a Pipeline Support Scientist for NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), his role is to work on the data analysis end. The TESS Science Processing Operations Center, SPOC, involves taking the data from the spacecraft, taking the pixels, the images, of all these stars, measuring their brightness, and searching through the measurements for transiting planets and then sending the data for further analysis by scientists, but also citizen scientists.