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Dr. Linda Sparke

A native of London, England, she watched the Apollo moonflights as a teenager, and later the close-up pictures from flyby missions of the giant planets and their satellites. Amazed by the accuracy with which humans on Earth could calculate the flight paths of spacecraft, steering them safely to an orbit millions of miles away, she decided to study physics and astronomy. After undergraduate training in applied mathematics at Cambridge University, she went into astronomy as a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley.

Dr. Sparke held positions at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, and the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute in Groningen (Netherlands). She then moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a professor of Astronomy. With Prof. Jay Gallagher, also of UW-Madison, she wrote the advanced undergraduate textbook “Galaxies in the Universe: an Introduction”, which won the American Astronomical Society’s 2008 Chambliss Award for Astronomical Writing. She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Before joining NASA, she spent two years as a Program Officer in Astronomical Sciences at the National Science Foundation.

Her astronomical research interests focus on the many ways that gravity can act to produce the observed patterns of stars and gas in galaxies. While gravity is supposed to be a simple force, matters quickly get very complicated in a galaxy of more than 100 billion stars, as well as the "dark matter", which is of unknown nature, but has more mass than all the stars put together. She has worked on dynamical models for warped disk galaxies and polar rings around galaxies, and on single and multiple nested bars in disk galaxies. Since gravity is scale-free, she sometimes indulged in studies of circumstellar and circumbinary disks in eccentric stellar binaries. Her hobbies include cooking, quibbling, falling over in ballet class, and staring blankly into the middle distance.