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Erika Hamden: What it takes to launch a telescope


TED Fellow and astronomer Erika Hamden leads the team building FIREBall, a telescope that hangs from a giant balloon at the very edge of space and looks for clues about how stars are created. She takes us inside the roller-coaster, decade-long journey to get the telescope from an idea into orbit -- and shows how failure is inevitable when you're pushing the limits of knowledge.

Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Arizona

  • Local: $10,001 - $20,000*
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Dr. Erika Hamden is a Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Arizona. She develops UV detector technology with JPL, builds telescopes for NASA, and observes galaxies and hydrogen all over the universe.

Her last project was a UV telescope that flew on a high-altitude balloon. She is currently leading a team designing a UV space telescope. When she isn't building or thinking about telescopes, she has a serious yoga practice, is learning to fly a plane, and loves hiking in the desert around Tucson.

Erika Hamden received a bachelors in Astronomy and Astrophysics from Harvard in 2006. She worked as a chef for a year before beginning grad school at Columbia University, receiving a PhD in 2014. She moved to Caltech for a postdoc, working with Prof. Chris Martin and 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. Hamden was awarded a Nancy Grace Roman Technology Fellowship for her detector work in 2016. Prof. Hamden is a 2019 TED Fellow.

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Future TrendsInspiration & MotivationTechnologyOvercoming AdversityDisruptionRobotics & DronesSomething DifferentFemale Speakers
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