Current science position: Astrophysics PhD student at the University of Southern Queensland.
I am currently an astrophysics PhD student at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in Australia, however, I am studying mostly remote from the Bay Area, CA. My research is concerned with finding and characterizing exoplanets (planets around other stars), as well as improving science and astronomy education across the planet. I am also working a reduced schedule as a high school physics teacher at Mare Island Technology Academy in Vallejo, CA, educating high school students in the wonders of science, the importance of skepticism in our modern world, and involving them in my astrophysics research. How did I get into science? Well here’s my story. . .
Did I know I wanted a career in science since I was a young tyke? No. However, I did know that I wanted to change the world, make it a better place, inspire people, and turn the dark into light. I first thought I would accomplish these ambitious goals through religion, and even spent time in a Benedictine monastery while contemplating the priesthood. Later, I aspired to fulfill these goals through music. I thought that I could, like Bono in U2, cause social change and inspire the world with self-crafted songs in an original pop-rock band (you can check out my music in the music section of this site). In my late 20s, I began watching astronomy documentaries and reading popular science non-fiction. As my curiosity continued, I stumbled upon an old 1980s PBS documentary on Netflix hosted by a prolific and poetic character that struck a chord in me like nothing else in my life. It was while watching the original Cosmos: A Personal Voyage that Carl Sagan showed me how to save the world.
In the summer of 2013, as a newly vetted disciple of science, I enrolled as a full-time non-traditional adult student at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt). I originally enrolled with the intention of getting a B.S. in Astronomy & Physics, then later changed to a B.S. in Natural Sciences (focusing on planetary science) because of time and financial restraints associated with being a non-traditional adult student. I graduated in April 2016 and received a B.S. in Natural Sciences (planetary science focus), a B.A. in Media and Professional Communications, and a Certificate in Digital Media.
Most of my time at Pitt was spent taking science and math intensive courses to fulfill a study tract for my Natural Sciences degree, which very closely paralleled Pitt’s Geology degree. I also took several astrophysics courses required for the B.S. in Astronomy and Physics. This study tract allowed me to fulfill my interests in astronomy and planetary science within a time frame reasonable for a returning adult non-traditional student with limited time and finances. A list of relevant science courses is located on this page.
Winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Inter-Institutional Academic Collaborative (ACCIAC) Creativity & Innovation Fellowship in the summer of 2014 was my first major accomplishment as a budding science communicator. I was selected for this fellowship for my original creative project idea to create a science documentary about exoplanets using 3D computer animation. I created the short documentary, The Quest for Another Earth, which spotlights exoplanet research at the Allegheny Observatory by the Survey of Transiting Extrasolar Planets at the University of Pittsburgh (STEPUP). The video provides an overview of exoplanets, how they’re found, and explores Kepler-186f, an exoplanet that has been called an “Earth-cousin” by astronomers. Preparation for the video included a visit to Johns Hopkins’s Space Telescope Science Institute where I got one-on-one mentoring from their astronomers who created 3D animations in the IMAX movie, Hubble 3D. The video was featured on Pitt’s website and written about in their alumni newsletter. In December 2016, it was showcased at the world's largest geophysical science conference, American Geophysical Union (AGU), in their AGU Cinema Program and GIFT (Geophysical Information for Teachers) workshop in San Francisco, CA. In August 2017, it was showcased as a finalist at the 2017 Goldschmidt Conference's Wild Orbit Film's People's Choice for Best Science Communication in Paris, France. The documentary can be viewed in the Video section of this website.
To gain experience in geoscience, I applied to science intensive fellowships in my second academic year at Pitt and was awarded the Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship (MLEF) for the summer of 2015. During this summer fellowship, I worked for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and assisted them with creating an inventory of onsite geoscience samples (e.g. rock, sediment core, etc.) and of the associated data sets from their analyses. The final project for the fellowship was a comprehensive research report to help NETL evaluate the need for a geo-samples physical repository and digital database system for NETL in the future.
After the Mickey Leland Fellowship concluded, I was asked to return working for the DOE and NETL to continue my project as a part-time student worker through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). My new position at NETL under ORISE was as a Geoscience Data Specialist. As an ORISE student worker, I continued my previous project to advance recommendations for a proposed geoscience management system and repository. Two technical research papers on geoscience repositories were completed with NETL. The co-authored white paper, Assessment and Recommendations for Management of NETL's Physical & Digital Geo-Sample Assets, was shared internally to encourage NETL administrators to move forward with a geophysical repository and digital database system. While working with ORISE and NETL, I was featured on the MLEF website to highlight my research and continued work through ORISE. In February 2017, NETL featured me in NETL's internal newsletter (p. 4) to highlight my recent accomplishments in science education and outreach.
While applying to fellowships (such as the MLEF) I also began to search out undergraduate research opportunities and connected with Pitt petrologist, Dr. J. Brian Balta. Dr. Balta and I studied changes in abundances of rare earth elements in recharging martian magma chambers to better understand Martian shergottite meteorite chemistry. In September 2015, I was awarded the NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant Research Scholarship for the proposal I wrote under the advisement of Dr. Balta for this research. In March 2016, I presented my findings in a poster presentation at the 47th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. Click HERE to view my published abstract (abstract #1789). Click HERE, or see below to view the research poster I created and presented at this conferences research poster session. I am currently working with Dr. Balta in submitting this work for publication to a scientific journal.
In my final semester at Pitt (spring 2016), I began working at the Carnegie Science Center’s Buhl Planetarium and the Science on the Road program. At the Buhl Planetarium, I ran astronomy shows, such as Stars Over Pittsburgh and Beginners' Guide to the Universe, as well as several star party events on the roof of the science center. For Science on the Road, I traveled to regional K-9 school districts and delivered assembly and classroom size science education programs in the subjects of physics, robotics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, and geoscience. At Buhl, delivering the cosmos to audiences young and old was a very enriching experience and the one I most enjoyed while at the Carnegie Science Center.
After graduating from Pitt in April 2016, and a few more months of work at the Buhl Planetarium, I moved to San Diego, CA to begin studies at the University of San Diego to obtain a Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction and Single Subject Teaching Credential in Physics and Geosciences. While in San Diego, I was asked to deliver several astronomy workshops for conferences, such as the University of San Diego's 2016 STEAM Conference (August 2016) and High Tech High's Parent Odyssey Group (October 2016).
In the fall of 2016, while student teaching middle school science at Arroyo Vista Charter School in Chula Vista, CA, I introduced astrobiology to my 8th grade students. In order to encourage their curiosity in the subject-matter, I asked popular astrobiologist and science educator, Dr. David Grinspoon, to personalize a video about astrobiology to my students. The students were so excited about the video and to learn about astrobiology that I had them construct some questions that they would like to ask Dr. Grinspoon. This ultimately led to their questions being featured, and me as a guest, on Neil deGrasse Tyson's StarTalk radio podcast spinoff show, StarTalk All-Stars. The episode, "Are You Smarter than an 8th Grader?" with Dr. FunkySpoon, hosted by Dr. David Grinspoon and co-host Chuck Nice, aired on Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 7 PM EDT on www.startalkradio.net.
In spring 2017, I had the honor in getting trained on NASA's Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT). This training made me an official GAVRT operator with the ability to schedule observation time with their 34-meter, 500-ton, radio telescopes at NASA's Deep Space Network in southern California. I have led several observation sessions with students, including looking at J0217+7349, a quasar over 12 billion light years away emitting energy from an infant universe! Additionally, I have been involved in GAVRT's SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project to comb the Milky Way Galaxy for artificial signals that could be from advanced technological civilizations living among the stars.
Currently, I am working on a multidisciplinary PhD at USQ, in astrophysics and astronomy education. I am thrilled to be working with Drs. Carl Pennypacker (UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley Natl’ Labs), Brad Carter (USQ), Duncan Wright (USQ), Franck Marchis (SETI Institute), and Colleen McGowan-Romanowicz (American Modeling Teacher’s Association) for my research. The astrophysics research will involve working with USQ's Mt. Kent Observatory and their MINERVA-Australis project to perform follow-up and characterization observations of exoplanets discovered by NASA's TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) spacecraft. This research is in collaboration with the University of Louisville (UofL), NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, European Southern Observatory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and many other exciting institutions and scientists. The astronomy education portion of my research will explore a leading inquiry-based science education pedagogy, called Modeling Instruction (MI), and how we can not only transform the classroom into a student-centered learning environment, but also include students in current astrophysics research in exoplanet science. The education research will supplement the astrophysics research by creating (we hope) a global network of science students, amateur astronomers, and citizen scientists contributing to our work and exploring the universe through an exciting collaboration with Unistellar and the SETI Institute!
In addition to my new pursuits as an astrophysicist, I take pride in inspiring young new minds to enter science, and at the very least making every student I teach scientifically literate and able to think for themselves. I teach them not to take anything from authority (even me) as absolute truth, but instead, I teach the Latin phrase, cogita tute, which translates to think for yourself! This is in effort to spark more candles in the dark. Additionally, I do my best to instill curiosity and wonder in my students in an effort to make them lifelong learners and creators of new ideas.
Only 12 years ago, I left the idea of becoming a priest behind in a Benedictine monastery in North Carolina to pursue a career in music and follow my heart to eventually marry the love of my life. Now, I am more of a skeptic, but unlike many skeptics, I am not as cynical, and am still quite full of dreams, aspirations, and wonder. I am embarking on a quest to save the world and keep the important flame of science, truth, and imagination alive. Will you please join me?
Works in Progress:
Peluso, Daniel O. and Balta, J. Brian. (submission expected mid-2019) Rare Earth Element Variations in Recharging Martian Magma Chambers. Manuscript currently in preparation for submission to scientific journal, Geophysical Research Letters.
Publications and Abstracts:
Peluso, Daniel O. and Balta, J. Brian. (2016) Rare Earth Element Variations in Recharging Martian Magma Chambers: Impact on Shergottite Compositions.
47th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. Abstract #1789.
Peluso, D. O., Bean, A., Rose, K., McIntyre, D., Eck, R., Soeder, D., Crandall, D., and Hakala, A.
Geoscience Collection Management Systems: A Beginners Guide. NETL-TRS-7-2016. U.S. Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory: Pittsburgh, PA, 2016.
Bean, A., Peluso, D. O., Rose, K., McIntyre, D., Eck, R., Soeder, D., Crandall, D., and Hakala, A. Assessment of & Recommendations for Management of NETL’s Physical and Digital Geo-Sample Assets. NETL- TRS-5-2016. U.S. Dept. of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory: Pittsburgh, PA, 2016.
Master of Education - Action Research Thesis:
Peluso, Daniel O. Master Action Research Thesis, supervisor, Prof. Michele McConnell, University of San Diego. Title: Learning by Doing: Project-Based Science to Enhance Student Understanding of the Scientific Process
Planetary Science Research Poster:
Relevant Science Coursework:
Beginning coursework in astrophysics and science research at University of Southern Queensland July 2019 for astrophysics PhD.
Basic Physics for Scientists and Engineers 1
Basic Physics for Scientists and Engineers 2
Modern Physics (current)
Classical Mechanics (fall 2019)
Electricity & Magnetism (spring 2020)
Quantum Physics (spring 2020)
Chemistry 1 w/Lab
Chemistry 2 w/Lab
Analytical Geometry & Calculus 1
Analytical Geometry & Calculus 2
Analytical Geometry & Calculus 3
Intro to Data Science and Visualization (current)
Python Programming Masterclass (current)
Complete Android Oreo Developer Course (current)
Introduction to Astronomy (astrophysics)
Solar System and Extrasolar Planets
Stars, Galaxies and the Cosmos
Modeling Instruction Astronomy
History of the Earth
Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
Introduction to Remote Sensing
Planetary Science Research (NASA Space Grant)
Please see my CV for additional academic information.