J.Xavier Prochaska is a Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Born and raised in Rhode Island near the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, he attended Princeton University and graduated cum laude in physics. Although his first undergraduate research project was in physical oceanography, he pursued a Ph.D. in physics at the University of California, San Diego, under the supervision of Arthur M. Wolfe. Prochaska received his Ph.D. in 1998 with a thesis that investigated the dynamics of gas in distant galaxies. He was awarded the Carnegie and Hubble postdoctoral fellowships at Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, where he expanded his research interests to include the gas surrounding galaxies and the study of highly energetic gamma-ray bursts. In 2002, Prochaska joined the faculty of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the astronomy staff of the University of California Observatories. By obtaining spectra of distant sources, he has performed forefront research on the gas within, around, and between galaxies. These data reveal the processes that enrich galaxies, promote (or retard) their growth, and resolve the structure and physical state of the “cosmic web” that permeates our universe. In 2018, Prochaska became an affiliate of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe at the University of Tokyo, Japan, and in 2021 an affiliate of the Ocean Sciences Department at UC Santa Cruz.
Accelerating oceanographic research with spectroscopy and machine learning
As an observational astrophysicist, J. Xavier Prochaska studies the gas within, around and between distant galaxies. His research programs reveal the physical conditions of this gas: its enrichment by heavy elements, the ionization state, the surface density and its dynamics. With the Simons Foundation Pivot Fellowship, he will transition to the field of physical oceanography, working under the mentorship of Daniel Rudnick at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) at the University of California, San Diego. Prochaska’s primary goals during the fellowship are to apply his expertise in spectroscopy, machine learning and instrumentation to research complex processes in sub-mesoscale dynamics, generate data-driven predictions for the onset of harmful algal blooms, and develop new technologies for in-situ hyperspectral imaging of coastal regions. From the large and diverse pool of scientists and staff at SIO, he will build a network to inspire new collaborations and threads of research that will bridge the oceanographic and astronomical communities.