To the Stars and Back

  • Speakers
  • Thebe Medupeprofessor of astronomy and the deputy dean for community engagement at the Department of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, North-West University
  • Lucia Perez, Ph.D.Flatiron Research Fellow, Galaxy Formation, CCA, Flatiron Institute
  • Molly WebsterSenior Correspondent, Radiolab
Date & Time

About Presents
Presents is a free events series exploring the connections between science, culture and society. Join our scientists and special guests as they discuss the intersections of their work, followed by an evening of conversation over drinks. It’s an opportunity to hear new perspectives that may challenge your assumptions and stoke your curiosity. Meet interesting people who share a passion for ideas and discovery. Come for the conversation, stay for the connections.

As astronomers all over the world delve into the scientific exploration of the cosmos, they regularly unlock new knowledge that reshapes their understanding of the universe. Sometimes that new knowledge can come in varied forms which can help them reflect not just on the science but on how it connects with different cultures around the world, including their own.

Alongside his research on pulsating stars, South African astrophysicist Thebe Medupe traveled across Africa to learn about different storytelling practices stemming from ancient cosmology. This experience gave him a deeper perspective on how the stars he studies influence how people live on Earth.

Lucia Perez is a computational astrophysicist at the Flatiron Institute and a former research advisee of Medupe under a Fulbright Fellowship to South Africa. Though her focus has shifted to simulating the universe, she has been to the deserts of Arizona and Chile to study galaxy formation and is dedicated to finding ways to make her work more accessible to other Spanish speakers and underrepresented minorities in American astronomy.

Join them as they reunite and sit down with Radiolab’s Molly Webster to discuss how they utilize their science to build stronger connections to their own cultures and vice versa.


Medupe is a professor of astronomy and the deputy dean for community engagement at the Department of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at North-West University, South Africa. He is deeply committed to building a pipeline for other black South Africans to enter astronomy in post-apartheid South Africa. He is a steering committee member and helped establish the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme, which is a multi-institutional initiative that aims to train South African students in astrophysics and space science at honors and master’s levels and provide a path to Ph.D. studies in these and related research areas. Medupe is also the current president of the African Astronomical Society and has been involved in the National Research Foundation Astronomy Advisory Council and other panels.

Perez joined the Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA) as a Flatiron Research Fellow in August 2023, after beginning her postdoctoral research at Princeton University as a Future Faculty in the Physical Sciences fellow. Perez completed her Ph.D. in astrophysics from Arizona State University in 2022, focusing on the clustering of Lyman Alpha Emitters and reionization. During this time, she primarily worked out of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center thanks to the development of the Roman Space Telescope. Perez was a part of the CCA pre-doctoral program in the fall of 2020, where she began her work with CAMELS-SAM. This line of research led to her current focus on the galaxy-halo connection, in which she creates simulations and galaxy catalogs at scale and uses machine learning to constrain cosmology and astrophysics. Past research experiences took her to South Africa on a Fulbright Fellowship, Germany to work with LOFAR, NASA Marshall for a bout with planetary science and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to contribute to dark matter detection efforts. Perez earned her bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College.

Webster is the senior correspondent at Radiolab. After completing a degree in biology, Webster pursued science journalism, writing for outlets such as Scientific American and National Geographic Adventure. Her ability to comprehend and immerse herself in complicated issues has helped Radiolab investigate international surrogacy, the price of a human life and more. She has adapted her audio and written work for the stage, including on the TED main stage. A frequent guest host on Radiolab, she developed, produced and hosted their first-ever special series, “Gonads” — a critically acclaimed podcast and live event series about the parts of us that make more of us. Webster recently published a children’s book about a lonely black hole.

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