Kelley Hess Balances Science and Sport

Oct 14, 2011

Kelley Hess (center) gives her all for the UW Cycling Club team.

Recent Astronomy Department Ph.D. graduate Kelley Hess is perhaps most famous in the department for winning the Mad City Marathon in 2006. Last year, she placed seventh in her age group in the Ironman triathlon.

“Cycling and running are what I do so that I can come back to astronomy each day feeling refreshed and excited to discover something new,” says Hess. “It’s important to me to have mental and physical balance.”

Hess was a runner and soccer player before she started biking during her second year of graduate school. She rides for the UW Cycling Club team during the collegiate school year and also for Team Kenda presented by Geargrinder. At the highest level, the UW team qualified for Nationals, which were hosted in Madison this year.

Hess’s academic work is also impressive. She graduated this summer and moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where she is doing a postdoc at the University of Cape Town. Her research is in galaxy evolution. She is a member of the ALFALFA Consortium and worked on the Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA Survey, which she used to study the evolution in the gas content of galaxies as a function of the environment in which they live.

“Astronomers think that galaxies spend most of their lifetime in the group environment and that that is where they undergo most of their evolution,” she says. “But these groups are hard structures to identify. This is the first dedicated study from the perspective of their gas content to also examine the surrounding large scale environment.”

For the past three years, Hess has received the Wisconsin Space Grant Fellowship. UW-Madison also awarded her a Vilas travel grant for domestic and international travel. She’s done public lectures at Space Place and guest lectures for the introductory astronomy classes.

“I had a passion for astronomy in junior high and high school but didn’t think people could do it as a career and make a living at it,” says Hess. “I started out in chemistry and took a basic introduction to astronomy class. Jim Bell, the principal investigator on the camera for the Mars Rover, was in my class, and I got to meet Bill Nye, the Science Guy.” Hess learned about the research side of astronomy and discovered that people could actually make a living at it. She participated in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. As a senior in 2004, she spent the summer at the Very Large Array radio observatory in Socorro, New Mexico. “It was one of the best summers of my life, and I decided to go into astronomy,” she says.

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