Maria Womack, Ph.D

Research Scientist

Dr. Maria Womack is a Planetary Scientist and Astrophysicist at the Florida Space Institute. She has extensive observational experience with comets and exoplanets at optical, infrared and mm-wavelengths. Before coming to FSI, she worked at USF leading NSF-funded research projects on cometary science and serving as the Director of the physics Bridge-to-doctorate program. Before that she served as a program director at NSF, where she led the stellar- and planetary-programs of the Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Grants Program. While at NSF, she also created the NN-EXPLORE partnership between NSF and NASA to support a ground-based high-precision radial velocity survey of nearby stars to confirm and characterize exoplanet candidates. Before NSF, she served as (tenured) Professor at St. Cloud State University where she taught physics and astronomy, carried out NSF- and NASA-funded research, and directed the SCSU observatory and planetarium. She has received many honors, including the NSF CAREER Award for research and education.

Her group’s main goal is to constrain physical and chemical models of the origins of planetary systems by obtaining and analyzing data of comets and exoplanets and her work is supported by NSF and NASA grants. She performs spectroscopy, interferometry and imaging at optical, infrared and millimeter wavelength telescopes and collaborates with leading atmospheric theorists. Dr. Womack also leads a world-wide observing campaign for the Centaur 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann and was co-chair of the 2019 International Centaur Exploration Workshop at FSI. She currently serves as co-chair of the Arecibo Scientific Advisory Committee and provides other management assistance for the Arecibo Observatory.