Dr. Erika Hamden is an astrophysicist and role model for STEM professionals. Being the daughter of Professor Dean Hamden, a long serving Physics and Astronomy faculty member at Montclair State, it was no wonder that she developed a love of the sciences. She received a bachelor’s degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics from Harvard College in 2006 and then a doctorate in Astrophysics from Columbia University in 2014. Her research focuses on measuring and mapping diffuse hydrogen around other galaxies and within star forming regions in our own galaxy. To do that, she builds ultraviolet telescopes that go to the stratosphere of space and develops sensor technology to make these telescopes more efficient.
Dr. Hamden’s professional journey highlights the importance of determination and she uses her experiences to inspire the next generation of STEM innovators. Before attending Harvard, she dropped out of MIT in her first semester, and has learned the importance of keeping going through difficult times. During the time between MIT and Harvard, she attended Montclair State and participated in a study-abroad program. In 2019, she was selected as an AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador to share the story of her STEM journey and the many ways in which she uses these skills to solve problems and create new possibilities for the future. She was also selected to be a 2019 TED Fellow, and spoke on the topic of “What it takes to launch a telescope.” Dr. Hamden is a frequent speaker at Montclair State and looks back fondly on her experience as a Weston Science Scholars Program Mentor from 2006 to 2012.
Dr. Hamden is currently an assistant professor at the University of Arizona. Before that, she was an NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow and the R.A. and G.B. Millikan Prize Postdoctoral Fellow in Experimental Physics at the California Institute of Technology. Dr. Hamden was awarded a Nancy Grace Roman Technology Fellowship for her detector work in 2016. She also was awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2019 for her work on FIREBall, a UV telescope. This is the highest honor the U.S. government can bestow on an early career scientist. Her broad interests have also provided her some unique experiences. Dr. Hamden worked as a chef for a year and received a Pâtisserie Diploma from Le Cordon Bleu before beginning graduate school. She also has a serious yoga practice and is learning to be a pilot.