ZTF Faces

This section features PhD students, postdocs and young faculty who are part of the global ZTF collaboration.

Nabeel Rehemtulla

PhD at the Northwestern University, USA

Where was your starting point and how did you discover astronomy?

I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan - a lively university town about 30 minutes away from Detroit. Despite the cold, I haven't left the Midwest United States and am now in Chicago, Illinois.

I first became interested in astronomy from two experiences in high school. The first was a course I took called Earth, the Solar System, and the Universe - or ESSU. This involved all kinds of physical sciences including geology, meteorology, and astronomy. The second was an extracurricular called the National Science Bowl, a science-focused Jeopardy-style competition. It was my job to handle the space science questions, so I learned a lot about astronomy when preparing for tournaments. From there, I knew I wanted to try astronomy research in my undergrad.

I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan (UMich). I studied Astronomy and Computer Science there and was focused on using technical skills to make myself a better Astronomer. My research at UMich, supervised by Professor Monica Valluri, involved developing a new technique for modeling the Milky Way's dark matter with movements of stars. I graduated from UMich in the Spring of 2021 and started my PhD at Northwestern University (NU) in the Fall of 2021.

How did you discover ZTF?

I discovered ZTF when I joined the group of prof Miller two years ago.

What are you playing with in the ZTF playground?

I work with the Bright Transient Survey and Machine Learning teams. My work thus far has been developing and deploying a machine learning tool called BTSbot to automatically identify supernovae and request followup observations for them in real-time. I am now working on configuring BTSbot to find supernovae and collect follow-up observations well before humans typically can to aid in understanding the physics of these events as soon as they explode.

Where do you want to steer your rocket in the future?

I hope to continue working at the intersection of astronomy and machine learning. This space is already rapidly growing and will continue to as we head into the "era of large surveys."

If you were not an astronomer, what would you be?

I would surely lean towards data science - ideally with an emphasis on machine learning.

If you’ve had a bad day at work, you will….

Get away for a bit - I may take a walk by Lake Michigan or cook a meal at home.