BDNYC Team Member Defends Thesis

The BDNYC team is proud to announce that team member Dr. Mark Popinchalk successfully defended his thesis in the Physics PhD program at the City University of New York Graduate Center (CUNY Grad Center) this July 2023.

Mark Popinchalk defending his thesis.

Over the course of his PhD program at the CUNY Grad Center, Popinchalk’s research has focused on calculating how old a star is by looking at how quickly it spins, as young stars spin fast and older stars spin more slowly. In his thesis work, Popinchalk looked at how the smallest type of stars (called M dwarfs) change over time and studied several groups of young stars—40 million years old, Popinchalk notes, “which is young for stars!”—to see if they were a similar age.

Popinchalk attended Wesleyan University for his undergraduate studies, moving to Brooklyn after graduating in 2013. He worked in the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) Education Department for four years before starting the Physics PhD program at the CUNY Grad Center in 2017. After beginning to work with BDNYC in 2016, it was a natural progression for Popinchalk to continue his dissertation research with the group. Under the advisement of Dr. Jackie Faherty, Popinchalk spent most of the six years of his degree at AMNH, moving from the Education offices to the Astrophysics offices on the sixth floor of the planetarium.

Post-defense, Popinchalk comments that it’s an incredibly fulfilling feeling to achieve a goal he’s been working toward for six years. On working with Jackie and BDNYC, he says he “felt supported throughout it all, and I was happy that my parents were able to be in New York on the day of the defense. Celebrating on the terrace with my academic family and actual family was a wonderful way to recognize the accomplishment.”

And what’s next on the horizon for Popinchalk? “I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to piece enough projects together and stay at the Museum as a postdoc for at least another year,” Popinchalk explains. “I won a NASA grant with Jackie to do more research on spinning stars, and I also won a different NASA grant to work with the astro-visualization department to put our spinning star research into the planetarium software.” Popinchalk will also stay involved in the Education Department, mentoring his sixth cohort of high school students as part of the SRMP program and even teaching a class with the program that hired him nearly ten years ago.

Dr. Jackie Faherty and Dr. Mark Popinchalk post-defense.

Outside of astronomy research, Popinchalk loves Ultimate Frisbee, baking bread, and all kinds of games! You can follow his journey and scientific career on Twitter and Bluesky @markpopinchalk, or on Instagram @markpopinchalk_. The entire BDNYC team extends their most heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Mark Popinchalk on this wonderful achievement!