Meet our international team searching for life in the universe.
Greetings! The PLANETS Foundation is an international team of professors, astrophysicists, engineers, entrepreneurs and scientists from 7 countries around the globe. Our members have made fundamental contributions to some of the most advanced telescopes now being built, like the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile or the Daniel K. Inouye Telescope on Haleakala.
Visit our technology page to see how we’re pushing technology limits to build telescopes.
Dr. Svetlana Berdyugina
Svetlana Berdyugina is an exoplanetary and astrobiology researcher and physics professor. Svetlana and her team were the first to see reflected light and a blue color of a planet outside the solar system, a paradigm-exploding discovery in exoplanetary research. While employing quantum effects in various molecules, she pioneered and established several innovative research lines in astrophysics, which led to discoveries of new phenomena. Her breadth, vision and fearless attitude toward research set her on the path to search for signs of life on other planets while investigating colorful bacteria and plants of Hawai‘i.
Dr. Marcelo Emilio
Dr. Marcelo Emilio is an astronomer and professor from Ponta Grossa State University in Brazil. During his PhD he worked with The Michelson Doppler Imager on-board the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory satellite measuring the size and shape of the Sun. With the CoROT satellite measurements he investigated mass ejection episodes in Be stars. He is one of the discovers of the first ring around an asteroid (Chariklo) and with collaborators was the one to first use measurements of planetary transits from space to measure the size of the sun. He is currently working with measurements of the Sun from Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager instrument on-board the Solar Dynamics Observatory, exoplanets and astronomy education.
A Vancouver native, Caisey Harlingten is the Colossus project’s co-founder. He is also the founder and president of the SearchLight Observatory Network (SON), which leads a worldwide campaign for doing ultra-sensitive polarimetry. Using novel instrumentation SON has a network of telescopes that, while of modest aperture, now have unique capabilities to do 1e-5 broadband polarimetry. To support it’s science objectives the SON telescopes are located at some of the world’s finest mountaintop observatory locations, providing both dark sky’s and stable atmospheres.
Dr. Jeff Kuhn
Dr. Kuhn is a physicist and astronomer, having received his physics PhD from Princeton in 1981. He helped found the Advanced Technology Research Center of the Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii on Maui in 2003 and was its director until 2012. As a researcher, he’s generated about $14M of federal research grants over the last decade and published more than 200 papers. His innovative optical research has contributed to telescopes now under construction, like the Giant Magellan Telescope and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (for which he is a principal co-investigator). His scientific work has been recognized with an International Senior Humboldt Prize (from Germany) and international research fellowships from Japan, Switzerland, Germany, and France. He serves as an advisor for diverse organizations ranging from the BreakThrough Starshot and Watch committees to advisory Boards for NASA and university programs. He leads the PLANETS consortium.
Dr. Maud Langlois
Dr. Maud Langlois is an expert in extreme adaptive optics and the instrument scientist of the IR dual imaging and spectrograph for the spectro-polarimetric high-contrast exoplanet system (SPHERE) on the Very Large Telescope (VLT), which is used for direct detection of exoplanets. She has conceived, developed, integrated, and tested (on-sky) several innovative astronomical instruments for the VLT, Gemini telescope, Large Binocular Telescope, Multiple Mirror Telescope, as well as multi-conjugate adaptive optics systems for solar telescopes.
Kevin is an entrepreneur interested in finding and characterizing life on nearby exoplanets. He spends the majority of his time working on the PLANETS Foundation to scale their fundraising. In addition to finding life in the Universe, Kevin is also interested in developing organizations that prospect and mine asteroids. He has also had a successful career in the Hawaii travel and tourism industry where we founded multiple companies ranging from an online activity brokerage to a retail chain.
Dr. Gil Moretto
Dr. Gil Moretto is an expert in high-resolution and high-dynamic range astronomical instrumentation. He has contributed to the development of the Southern Astrophysical Research telescope, DKIST, NST, and High Dynamic Range Telescope. He currently works on novel optical designs, 3D printable optical technologies, co-phasing strategies, and adaptive optics concepts for extremely large telescopes and Antarctica-based astronomy.
Dr. Shoichi Okano
Dr. Shoichi Okano started his career as a scientist by viewing a red planet, Mars, through a tiny (diameter 4 cm) telescope in 1956 when he was 9 years old, that made him feel excited to see other worlds on the sky. In his early stage of research, he was involved in the field of the earth’s upper atmosphere like observations of terrestrial airglow and aurora, as well as the ozone layer. Dr. Okano is the first to observe height profiles of ozone in the stratosphere from the ground with laser heterodyne spectroscopy. He wintered over at Japanese Syowa Station in Antarctica for aurora observation.
Dr. Okano started observation of planetary atmospheres at Haleakala in the year 2000. He sympathized with Dr. Jeff Kuhn’s idea of PLANETS telescope and initiated collaboration with the IfA and the University of Hawaii by the first official funding for the optics of PLANETS telescope. After his retirement from Tohoku University in 2012, he moved to Maui to complete a 60cm telescope moving the project from Tohoku University’s Iitate observatory, which has been contaminated with radiation by the accident of nuclear reactor in March 2011, to Haleakala summit. After completion of the telescope moving project, Dr. Okano returned to Japan in 2015 and is still devoting himself to promote the PLANETS telescope project.
Dr. Joe Ritter
Dr. Joe Ritter began his career performing imaging inside cells, Birth defects research, Biochemistry, Artificial Intelligence and Genetics. At the University of California San Diego Center for Astrophysics and Space Science, he was Associate Development Engineer for novel space plasma flight hardware, and worked on the first Hubble space telescope service mission. Joe was the Associate Research Scientist in Space Systems Engineering at the Florida Space Institute, Team Lead of Advanced Optical Systems Development in the Advanced Concepts group at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. On Maui he was Director of Optical Systems R&D for SAIC Reconnaissance Surveillance Operations.
Currently Joe is a fellow of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Program (NIAC) and Laboratory Director and Physicist at the IFA Advanced Technology Research Center on Maui.
Dr. Takeshi Sakanoi
Dr. Sakanoi received his Ph.D. from Tohoku University, where he is also currently employed as an associate professor of the Planetary Plasma and Atmospheric Research Center, Graduate School of Science. Dr. Sakanoi specializes in determining the variations in planetary atmospheres, such as Jovian aurora and Venusian clouds by obtaining continuous monitoring data with the T60 and T40 telescopes at Haleakala summit. He also has developed many optical and infrared instruments such as the ground-based auroral imager and spectrometer and infrared Echelle spectrometer. He is a true expert in his profession and is referenced in a total of 66 academic papers.
Dr. Isabelle Scholl
Dr. Isabelle Scholl is a Computer Science Engineer and an Astronomer.She received her Master’s in Computer Science from the CNAM/Strasbourg and her PhD in Astrophysics and Space Techniques from the University Paris XI.After working as a Research Engineer at the CNRS (Orsay, France) as the technical manager of the European operations and data center for the SOHO mission, she has held positions as Assistant Professor at the International Space University (Strasbourg, France) and the Institute for Astronomy (Honolulu, Hawaii).
She is now working at IfA/Maui as a Project Manager and software lead for the CryoNIRSP project; a Cryogenic Near-IR Spectropolarimeter that will be a first-light instrument of the DKIST telescope atop Haleakala, Maui.
Organizations that have supported the PLANETS telescope
The project “Hot Molecules in exoplanets and inner disks” is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant during 2012-2017 and is hosted at the Kiepenheuer Institut fuer Sonnenphysik, Freiburg, Germany.
Institute For Astronomy
The Institute for Astronomy (IfA) is a research unit within the University of Hawaii system. IfA astronomers perform research into solar system objects, stars, galaxies and cosmology.
Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics
The Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics is a research institute located in Freiburg, Germany.Its research focuses on the exploration of the Sun, stars and their environment, including solar planets and exoplanets.
National Autonomous University of Mexico
The National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) is a public research university in Mexico City, Mexico and is the largest university in Latin America. The UNAM is widely regarded by many university world rankings as the leading university of the Spanish-speaking world.
The SETI Institute is a not-for-profit research organization whose mission is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe, and to apply the knowledge gained to inspire and guide present and future generations. Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute has been leading the way in searching for life beyond Earth and now employs over 130 scientists, educators, and support staff.
State University of Ponta Grossa
The State University of Ponta Grossa is one of the five state universities in Paraná, Brazil. The institution has two campi in Ponta Grossa city as well as a college ground in each of the following cities: Telêmaco Borba, Castro and São Mateus do Sul. UEPG has 28 undergraduate courses as well as several post-graduation courses leading to a PhD degree. The university has over 10,000 students and more than 1,500 faculty and staff members.
Tohoku University is located in Sendai, Miyagi Japan. It is the third oldest Imperial University in Japan and among the National Seven Universities. It is considered as one of the most prestigious universities in Japan, and one of the top fifty universities in the world.
University de Lyon
The University de Lyon, located in Lyon and Saint-Étienne, France, is a center for higher education and research comprising 16 institutions of higher education. The three main universities in this center are: Claude Bernard University Lyon 1, which focuses upon health and science studies and has approximately 27,000 students