My objective in science is to improve our ability to identify, track, and characterize the small bodies that surround us in the solar system—in essence, the what, where, and why of our planetary neighborhood. I'd like to understand the history they record and their behavior in various space environments to inform humanity's future interactions with them.
Comets are small bodies with visible activity driven by sublimation. I am interested in how they change under solar heating to better constrain the properties of their formation environment and to improve the reliability of projections of their behavior. I've made use of various telescopes and instruments big and small to observe many of these objects over their brief apparitions. I'm currently leading a polarimetry survey of a few comets using the Hubble Space Telescope to quantify the properties of the dust as close to the nucleus, and thus as primitive of a state as possible.
Most periodic comets likely originated far beyond Neptune in the Kuiper belt or related structures like the scattered disk. Comet-sized (~1 km diameter) objects, however, are too faint to directly observe so far away with modern telescopes, obfuscating the origin story. We instead probe these "proto-comets" by monitoring for stars that briefly blink out from objects crossing in front of them. The CHIMERA project at Caltech, an ongoing occultation survey performed with the Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory, will be by far the most sensitive to date in the sub-kilometer diameter range.