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Dr. Aomawa Shields

Astronomer, astrobiologist, and Professor of Physics and Astronomy

  • About Aomawa Shields

    An influential astrobiologist and astronomer, Dr. Aomawa Shields is one of the few Black women in a predominantly white male field; she is the 126th Black woman to have ever received PhDs in physics and astronomy. As a child, she dreamt of working for NASA and went on to attend MIT. However, plagued by self-doubt and discouragement from her male professor, she left science to pursue acting. But her love for science never ended, leading her to co-host a PBS show, Wired Science, and ultimately, to return to finish her PhD in astronomy and astrobiology. Now, combining her passion for both astronomy and acting, she is the Clare Boothe Luce Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California Irvine, and the Founder and Director of Rising Stargirls, an organization that encourages girls of color to engage with science through the performing arts.

    Dr. Aomawa Shields chronicles her amazing journey in her upcoming memoir, Life on Other Planets. Charting her life as an astronomer and classically trained actor, she shares how her unconventional career path and being different were her superpowers: she can communicate important scientific principles to the public in an engaging and entertaining way. Deeply committed to fostering diversity and inclusivity in STEM, Dr. Shields champions acceptance and celebration for nontraditional students, regardless of race, gender, or even age. In her captivating talks and workshops, she aims to bridge the gap between the scientific community and the public, advocates for greater representation in science, and encourages her audience to find their place in the universe by creating a new path.

    Dr. Aomawa Shields’s groundbreaking research in the possible climates and potential habitability of Earth-sized planets is highly recognized in the scientific community. The NASA Habitable Worlds program is a supporter of her research, and she has been awarded the prestigious NSF CAREER award. Her TED talk, “How We’ll Find Life on Other Planets,” has garnered over 1.7 million views.

    Dr. Shields received her PhD in Astronomy and Astrobiology from the University of Washington in 2014, an MFA in Acting from UCLA in 2001, and an Sc.B. in Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences from MIT in 1997. She held an NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship and a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship at UCLA and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics before joining the UCI faculty in 2017.

  • Speaking Topics

    Life on Other Planets: Finding My Place in the Universe

    Sharing excerpts from her memoir, Life on Other Planets, Dr. Aomawa Shields speaks to audiences about how she found her place in the universe. She talks about her struggle to fit in as a Black woman in astronomy, her nontraditional career path, and how discovering what she wants and needs was essential for thriving in both her personal and professional life.

    Engaged and Alive: Communicating Science in Ways that Inspire and Excite Audiences

    As a classically trained actor, Dr. Aomawa Shields uses theater, writing, and the visual arts to bring the public into dialogue about scientific discoveries. She talks about using her acting experience to communicate her research to people without scientific backgrounds, and engage and inspire others to be interested in science.

    The Search for Life Beyond Earth

    “Are we alone in the universe?” Dr. Aomawa Shields searches for clues of another planet where life might exist. Drawing from her background in astrobiology, she models the possible climates of distant exoplanets. In this fascinating talk that brings audiences into her research process, she shows how she uses computer-generated climate models to explore contradictions and to calculate the kind of atmosphere a planet would need to have a suitable climate for water and life.

  • Video

  • Praise for Aomawa Shields

    Praise for Life on Other Planets

    This riveting memoir is relatable and personable … As Shields says in the book, science and art don’t just compliment each other: they overlap. She’s a part of that overlap.

    BBC Sky at Night

    Shields’ unusual and inspiring account will appeal to readers who feel stuck in life. Discussing relatable issues like making decisions, financial worries, and imposter syndrome while she shares her approach to achieving lofty goals, Shields’ words will reassure readers who question their abilities when success seems elusive.


    A lyrical, image-rich investigation of an unconventional blueprint for authentic living.

    Kirkus Reviews

    A riveting memoir of crossroads, choices, and triumph. I could not put this book down. Shields is an astronomer whose writing miraculously feels like the night sky itself – vast, elegant, luminous.

    Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create and Lead

    This book is so good, so gorgeously written, covering with integrity so much: being smart, scared, taking your power, humor, family, being different and the same, science, stars, sky, being a woman, being black; it is a triumph and a pleasure. It compels the reader to learn more about the planets, and how to stretch our unlimited capacity to live fully in this universe.

    Natalie Goldberg, author of Three Simple Lines and Writing Down the Bones
  • Books by Aomawa Shields

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and Availability

  • 212 572-2013
  • Aomawa Shields travels from California

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