Ben Placek, Ph.D.

Knuth Information Physics Lab
Department of Physics
University at Albany
Albany NY - 12222
Email: placekben@gmail.com
LinkedIn: Ben's LinkedIn

Research

My research is concentrated in the fields of Astronomy/Astrophysics and Bayesian data analysis. I am currently working on the detection and characterization of Exoplanets --- distant planets that orbit stars other than our sun. In particular, applying Bayesian methods to the publicly available data from the Kepler Space Telescope. Instead of looking for transits, the large 'dips' in brightness of a planetary system as a planet eclipses the star with respect to our line of sight, we also look for photometric signatures comprised of reflected light, thermal emissions, ellipsoidal variations, and doppler beaming. These effects are displayed in the .gif below. I am actively working on ways in which to more accurately characterize exoplanets using high-precision light curves.

I recently gave a TEDx talk near my hometown in western New York! Please feel free to give it a watch!

This .gif shows the photometric signature of a Jupiter-sized planet in an eccentric orbit very close to it's host star. Several different orbital orientations are displayed, which greatly changes the morphology of the light curve.


Education

Ph.D. Physics 2014, University at Albany
M.S. Physics 2012, University at Albany
B.A. Physics 2010, Alfred University

Awards and Activities

  • Distinguished Dissertation Award, University at Albany, 2015.
  • NASA Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award, 2015.
  • Akira Inomata Award for Excellence in Research, University at Albany, 2014.
  • Adjunct Of The Year Award, University at Albany, 2014.
  • C.R. Carpenter Teacher's Scholarship, University at Albany, 2014.
  • Hal W. Metzger Award in Astronomy, Alfred University, 2010.
  • Member, Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society.
  • Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), Wesleyan University, 2009.
  • Presidential Scholarship, Alfred University.
  • President, Elmira-Corning Astronomical Society, 2008.

Publications

  1. Heller, R., Hippke, M., Placek, B., Angerhausen D., Agol, E. "Predictable Patterns in Planetary Transit Timing Variations and Transit Duration Variations Due to Exomoons", A&A, 591, A67, 2016. http://arxiv.org/abs/1604.05094
  2. Placek B , Knuth, K.H., Angerhausen, D. "Combining Photometry From Kepler and TESS To Improve Short-Period Exoplanet Characterization", PASP, 2016. http://arxiv.org/abs/1511.01082
  3. Placek, B., Knuth, K.H., Angerhausen, D., and Jenkins, J.M. "Characterization of Kepler-91b and the Investigation of a Potential Trojan Companion Using EXONEST", ApJ, 2015. http://arxiv.org/abs/1511.01068
  4. Placek, B.,"Bayesian Detection and Characterization of Extra-Solar Planets Via Photometric Variations",Dissertation, ProQuest/UMI. 2014. http://gradworks.umi.com/36/72/3672355.html
  5. Knuth K.H., Habeck M., Malakar N.K., Mubeen A.M., Placek B., "Bayesian Evidence and Model Selection" arXiv preprint arXiv:1411.3013 (2014). http://arxiv.org/pdf/1411.3013
  6. Placek, B., and Knuth, Kevin H.. "A Bayesian Analysis of HAT-p-7b Using the EXONEST Algorithm." arXiv preprint arXiv:1409.4152 (2014).http://arxiv.org/pdf/1409.4152.pdf
  7. Placek B., Knuth K.H., Angerhausen D. "EXONEST: Bayesian Model Selection Applied to the Detection and Characterization of Exoplanets Via Photometric Variations." The Astrophysical Journal, 2014. http://arxiv.org/pdf/1310.6764.pdf
  8. Knuth K.H., Placek B., Richards Z. 2012. "Detection and Characterization of Non-Transiting Extra-Solar Planets in Kepler Data Using Reflected Light Variations". N. Chawla and A.N. Srivastava (eds.) Proceedings of the Conference on Intelligent Data Understanding 2012.
  9. Placek B., Richards Z., Knuth K.H. 2012. "Detecting Non-Transiting Exoplanets". U. von Toussaint (ed.) Bayesian inference and Maximum Entropy Methods in Science and Engineering, Garching, Germany, July 2012, AIP Conference Proceedings, American Institute of Physics, Melville NY.
  10. Kilgard, R., Placek, B., Prestwich, A. "The X-ray source population of IC 10". Scott Wolk, Antonella Fruscione, and Douglas Swartz (eds.) Chandra's First Decade of Discovery, Boston, MA, September 2009.

Talks and Presentations

  • "Detecting and Characterizing Exoplanets with EXONEST: First Results and Future Prospects", January 2015, NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center
  • TEDxChemungRiver, November 2014, Corning Museum of Glass.
  • "EXONEST: A Bayesian Algorithm for Detecting Exoplanets - New Results, November 2013 Dept. of Physics, University at Albany
  • "Exoplanets: Hidden in Light", February 2013, Tanglewood Nature Center, Elmira NY
  • "Exoplanet Detection", October 2012, Dept. of Physics, University at Albany
  • "Detecting Non-Transiting Extra-solar Planets", October 2011, University at Albany
  • "The X-ray Source Population of IC10", June 2010, Eileen Collins Observatory
  • "The X-ray Source Population of IC10", May 2010, Alfred University
  • "The X-ray Source Population of IC10", January 2010, 215th American Astronomical Society Meeting (Poster Presentation)
  • "The X-ray Source Population of IC10", September 2009, Swarthmore College (Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium)

Courses

  • College Physics I/II - A two-semester calculus-based physics sequence for science/engineering majors. (SCCC)
  • Physics I/II - A two-semester algebra-based physics sequence for non-majors. (UAlbany,SCCC)
  • The Cosmic System - An survey course in the basic characteristics of the universe. Topics include distance scales, star/planetary formation, exoplanets, cosmology, and constellations. (SCCC)