Lisa Dang

Distant planets provide clues to understanding the solar system

Headshot of Lisa Dang

Université de Montréal postdoctoral research fellow, Lisa Dang, is one of this year’s winners of the L’Oréal Canada For Women in Science Research Excellence Fellowships. This fellowship will support her continued studies of hot exoplanets—in other words, planets outside our solar system.

Dang’s work involves observing distant planets through powerful space telescopes, which enable her to generate heat maps of the planets and decipher their climates, including wind speeds and seasons.

Her primary focus is on scorching hot planets, known as hot Jupiters and lava worlds. She explains that by studying these hot worlds, we can start figuring out the composition of these planets, which offer clues into its history, including how it was formed. This knowledge can help us better understand our own planet and how it came to be.

“Ultimately, I’m trying to understand the perfect recipe to creating a planetary system like our solar system, and maybe an Earth-like planet where you can host life,” says Dang.

Dang was born to Vietnamese refugee parents in Montreal and is the first in her family to get a high school degree, let alone complete a PhD. She admits that her unconventional background made it difficult for her to fit in at times within the scientific community.

“I’m incredibly honoured to be receiving this prize that recognizes the accomplishments of women in science and also reinforces my commitment to making it easier for other underrepresented people to engage with science,” she says.

Dang has big plans to continue her research. Excitingly, she has been named the Principal Investigator of a program with the James Webb Space Telescope to observe lava planets. She is hopeful that her work will uncover how planets form and evolve, and where Earth fits within the bigger picture.

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