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Astrophysics major finds joy in discovery

Portrait of ASU grad Tyler Richey-Yowell.

Photo courtesy Tyler Richey-Yowell

December 07, 2022

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

When Tyler Richey-Yowell signed up for physics during high school in her hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia, she didn’t expect to discover how much she loved learning how physics could explain how everything worked, from dropping a pencil to how our universe formed.

As her interest grew, she decided to study observational astronomy and attend Arizona State University for the invaluable connection to the telescope system in Arizona and Chile. This past summer, Richey-Yowell graduated from the School of Earth and Space Exploration with a PhD in astrophysics, and will walk at commencement this fall.

“I learned how much fun it is to be wrong,” Richey-Yowell said. “When I first started my research, we had a pretty good expectation for what the results would show. But it turned out to be something totally different — there was cool physics happening that our field was just starting to figure out, and my results were a part of that!”

Richey-Yowell credits her advisor Evgenya Shkolnik, associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, for teaching her the skills of how to be a researcher and the joy in discovering new things. "I first met Tyler when she applied to join my group at ASU,” said Shkolnik. “When I asked her what talks she found interesting at a recent conference, she pulled out a notebook with many pages of notes, and shared insightful observations, along with very perceptive questions. I was immediately impressed!”

Richey-Yowell was also a recipient of the Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST) award, focusing on the ultraviolet radiation around K stars and the potential habitability of planets orbiting these types of stars.

Since graduation, Richey-Yowell has joined the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, as the first Percival Lowell Postdoctoral Fellow, where she continues to study the evolution of stars and what this means for planetary habitability. Her advice to others still in school is: “Make sure you have a good advisor who will support you and find a great research group to lean on and learn from throughout grad school. Also, having at least one non-academic-related hobby is a good way to maintain a nice life balance.”

We asked her to share some thoughts about her time here at ASU.

Question: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

Answer: Walking into ISTB4 and seeing the rover replica and the Psyche replica always reminded me that I was a part of something bigger in trying to understand our universe. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I think that there is a big issue with communication in our society. I would love to create spaces to talk about and learn from each other about the connections between science, religion, art, community, etc., and to show that these things do fit together and depend on each other, rather than being separate issues.

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