Rising star in astronomy: Jedidah Isler

“I think one of the biggest problems we have yet to solve is how to truly make sure that the science and technology ecosystem is open, welcoming, and accessible to all.”
By | Published: November 21, 2022 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Marc Hunter

These days, Jedidah Isler doesn’t have much time to research blazars — supermassive black holes devouring material in distant galaxies — though she’s still interested in how they produce their jets. Instead, as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) principal assistant director for science and society, she is working full-time on advancing equity. “I think one of the biggest problems we have yet to solve is how to truly make sure that the science and technology ecosystem is open, welcoming, and accessible to all,” Isler, 40, says.

Like many others, Isler’s interest in astronomy started as a young girl looking up at the night sky. “I always found it to be so magnificent,” she says. “It made me feel full of wonder, and a profound sense of connection to the universe, the people on the planet, and all the generations of civilizations that have looked up at a similar sky.”

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Norfolk State University in Virginia, and a master’s from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, before heading to Yale University for her doctorate. In 2014, Isler became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Yale. She then went on to Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, to start her own research program. Along the way, she founded the nonprofit STEM en Route to Change (SeRCH) Foundation, aimed at using science to advance social justice issues. She’s also the creator and host of SeRCH’s video series On the Vanguard: Conversations With Women of Color in STEM, and has served on the American Institute of Physics’ Task Force to Elevate the Representation of African Americans in Undergraduate Physics & Astronomy (TEAM-UP) to increase African American representation in undergraduate physics and astronomy programs.

Isler’s colleagues are quick to laud both her professional accomplishments and her personal character. “Equity, justice, and inclusion seem to be interwoven into the fabric of who she is,” says Arlene Modeste Knowles, TEAM-UP Diversity Task Force project manager. “I know that the work that she is doing [at OSTP] will have far-reaching, long-lasting outcomes.”

Isler has also done “a lot of really amazing work” in astrophysics, says astrophysicist Daryl Haggard at McGill University, “trying to understand how the light coming from [blazar] systems can vary in time, which can tell us about how black holes eject material, and also how they emit light.”

Despite all her accomplishments, Isler remains humble. “You know, I just love astronomy and astrophysics,” she says. “It’s been such a passport in my life to opportunities that I may not have otherwise had. And so it’s been a great privilege to be a part of the community. I hope that through my work, I can help contribute to make it even better.”

Make sure to explore our full list of 25 rising stars in astronomy. Check back each week for a new profile!

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