Postdoc Spotlight: Diego Muñoz

Diego Muñoz

Diego is featured as part of Cornell's Postdoc Appreciation Week 2015. Read more about the week's events, giveaways, and awesome postdocs here.


What is your area of research?
I currently do theoretical work on planet formation and planet dynamics. These areas use the laws of physics (fluid mechanics and gravity) to calculate the behavior and evolution of systems composed of planets and of systems of gas and dust around young stars which is where planets form.

What inspired you to choose this field of study?
I have worked on other fields in Astronomy in the past (star formation, black holes). But my recent interest in planets has been driven by the recent astronomical discoveries which have shown us that planets are everywhere in our Galaxy!  As usual, these discoveries open more questions than the answers they provide. These questions are waiting for young scientists to find the key piece to the puzzle.

Why is this research important?
Astronomy is basic research, so, in a way, it is simply important in and of itself. However, planetary astrophysics, in particular, lies a bit closer to the heart of every person, since it is asking the questions that everyone asks at some point in their lives: where do we come from? is life on Earth an isolated phenomenon? Understanding the conditions of planet formation and their long term evolution of planets and their atmospheres brings us a bit closer to understanding how frequently the Universe is providing the necessary conditions for life.

How has your background influenced your scholarship?
I am from Chile and in Chile Astronomy has been given a lot of importance over the last two decades. The clear skies of the Chilean desert provide unique conditions for the state-of-the-art giant telescopes that both the US and European organizations have built (and are building) there.

What else has influenced your thinking as a researcher or scholar?
The people I have met and the challenges (and failures) I have faced. In time one realizes Science is a hard job that is plagued with trial-and-error moments, null results and wrong hypotheses. I have also learned that in order to chose interesting problems, one has to be constantly listening and being aware of where the field is headed to.

What other hobbies or activities do you enjoy in your spare time?
Ithaca offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, like, hiking swimming and exploring the gorges and waterfalls. Buying and reading used books is a hobby of mine (and a bit of a problem too).  I am into drawing and painting as well.

Why did you choose Cornell?
The Astronomy Department and my supervisor, Dong Lai, produce some of the best observational and theoretical research. It was an easy decision. Also, Ithaca in the Summer.

What’s next for you?
Ask me in December! Probably going back to Chile 

Do you have any advice for current graduate students?
Keep your feet on the ground, and listen to advice from multiple people.  Never allow yourself to be neglected by advisors or collaborators; a good, dynamic collaboration is worth more than the mere possibility of an exciting result obtained by working alone. Also, I find that often, enthusiastic grad students can get obnubilated by unrealistic expectations and perfectionism ("perfect is the enemy of good").