Get to Know Gemini! – Nancy Levenson

Get to Know Gemini is a new series of blog posts aimed to highlight the different careers, backgrounds, and types of people contributing to Gemini Observatory and its science.


Name: Nancy Levenson

What is your current position and at which telescope?

Deputy Director and Head of Science, based at Gemini South.

In four lines or less, explain what you do as part of the Gemini Observatory team?

A little of everything! As Deputy Director I partner with Markus and the Directorate in the overall leadership of Gemini, especially considering interactions with our governance bodies and external stakeholders and setting strategic directions. As Head of Science, I work to maximize the scientific productivity of the observatory, supporting both external users in the international community and Gemini staff.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

A little over 7 years, since mid-2009.

What drew you to this job?

I wanted to have a bigger impact on science, more than I could achieve in a regular academic role working with my own research group. I also happen to like the variety of tasks and interactions with lots of different people from around the world.

What is the best part of your job?

Solving problems. There are lots of situations where people run into an obstacle, and often by identifying the problem and being creative we can find a solution.

Where are you originally from/where did you grow up?

Tucson, Arizona.

What skill do you think is most important to know for your job?

How to work with people.

Why is astronomy important?

The opportunity for discovery, to understand the Universe around us.

In three lines, explain your PhD thesis.

I studied the mutual interactions of a supernova remnant (the remains from an exploded star) and the surrounding material, the interstellar medium.  I used a range of observations, from X-ray energies to the infrared, to reveal what the environment had been like earlier, and I showed how existing features like large clouds affect the subsequent motion of the supernova remnant’s shock wave.

What are your current research interests?

Now I mostly study active galactic nuclei (the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies that are actively taking on new material). I am interested in the material close to these central engines that hides their emission, and its relationship with star formation.

What is your favorite movie?

Raiders of the Lost Ark.

What is the latest book you have read?

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters.

What three albums would you bring with you to a desert island?

Back to Basics, Billy Bragg
Imperial Bedroom, Elvis Costello
Something classical – either Schubert string quartets or Marriage of Figaro, depending on my mood as I am packing.

What is one hobby of yours?

Travel. I have really enjoyed the opportunity to travel around Chile and South America while living here.

Favorite beverage?

Chilean wine.

Check back next month to learn more about the staff that help Gemini to explore the Universe and share its wonders!

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