Olivia Cooper

Third Year Graduate Student

UT Austin Astronomy

About me

Hey! I’m Olivia (she/her), a third year astronomy graduate student at UT Austin. My research focuses on extreme distant galaxies, specifically the formation and evolution of massive galaxies in the first few billion years of the universe. I graduated from Smith College in May 2020 with degrees in Astronomy and Physics and a concentration in Climate Change.


  • Massive galaxy evolution in the first two billion years
  • Early dusty starbursts and quiescent galaxies
  • Reionization era galaxies


  • BA in Astronomy & Physics, 2020

    Smith College

First-author Publications

Searching Far and Long. I. Pilot ALMA 2 mm Follow-up of Bright Dusty Galaxies as a Redshift Filter

A complete census of dusty star-forming galaxies (DSFGs) at early epochs is necessary to constrain the obscured contribution to the cosmic star formation rate density (CSFRD); however, DSFGs beyond z ~ 4 are both rare and hard to identify from photometric data alone due to degeneracies in submillimeter photometry with redshift. Here, we present a pilot study obtaining follow-up Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) 2 mm observations of a complete sample of 39 850 μm-bright dusty galaxies in the SSA22 field. Empirical modeling suggests 2 mm imaging of existing samples of DSFGs selected at 850 μm-1 mm can quickly and easily isolate the ‘‘needle in a haystack’’ DSFGs that sit at z > 4 or beyond. Combining archival submillimeter imaging with our measured ALMA 2 mm photometry (1σ ~ 0.08 mJy beam-1 rms), we characterize the galaxies’ IR spectral energy distributions (SEDs) and use them to constrain redshifts. With available redshift constraints fit via the combination of six submillimeter bands, we identify 6/39 high-z candidates each with >50% likelihood to sit at z > 4, and find a positive correlation between redshift and 2 mm flux density. Specifically, our models suggest the addition of 2 mm to a moderately constrained IR SED will improve the accuracy of a millimeter-derived redshift from Δz/(1 + z) = 0.3 to Δz/(1 + z) = 0.2. Our IR SED characterizations provide evidence for relatively high-emissivity spectral indices (<β> = 2.4 ± 0.3) in the sample. We measure that especially bright (S 850μ m > 5.55 mJy) DSFGs contribute ~10% to the cosmic-averaged CSFRD from 2 < z < 5, confirming findings from previous work with similar samples.

Curriculum gaps for adult climate literacy

Conservation scientists need to advance climate literacy so that people understand how climate affects all of life, acquire the skills to communicate about climate change, and become aware of ways to increase local resiliency. We examined syllabus content for 74 general climate change courses taught at the undergraduate college‐level to investigate the scope and extent to which these climate change courses include key topics to advance climate literacy. By analyzing the textual data, we discovered most courses had a strong focus on biogeophysical science and only 8.8 and 9.4% of the terms that occurred in this sample were connected to climate change solutions and communication, respectively. The fine category “Organisms,” which includes terms for specific animals such as “jellyfish” and “urchin” and related terms like “species”, was only observed in 26% of the syllabi; and the term “biodiversity” was mentioned seven times, “extinction” four times, and “animal” was mentioned two times across all 74 syllabi. This reveals a potential gap in addressing the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, and the role of some species in regulating climate. We recommend educators include a broader array of inter‐disciplinary topics, place‐based information, communication strategies, and mitigation and adaptation solutions to bridge the gap between climate science, literacy, and action.

Research Positions


Graduate Research Assistant

Advisor: Professor Caitlin Casey

Sep 2021 – Sep 2022 Austin, TX
Constructing a 3D rendering of the SSA22 protocluster using detections of Lyman-alpha emitters using VIRUS/HET

Dean’s Excellence Fellow

Advisor: Professor Caitlin Casey

Sep 2020 – Sep 2021 Austin, TX
Characterizing IR SEDs of a sample of bright dusty galaxies in the SSA22 field with new ALMA 2mm follow-up imaging

Senior Honors Thesis Researcher

Advisor: Professor James Lowenthal

Sep 2019 – May 2020 Smith College, MA
Measuring photo-z’s and lensing masses for 10 Planck-selected submillimeter galaxies to constrain foreground lens mass distribution

Caltech LIGO Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow

Advisors: Dr. Michael Coughlin, Shreya Anand

Jun 2019 – Aug 2019 California Institute of Technology, CA
Observe and simulate light curves of inspiraling eclisping binaries with orbital decay as potential ultracompact verification binaries for the future LISA mission

University of Utah Physics & Astronomy REU Scholar

Advisors: Professor Anil Seth, Professor Gail Zasowski

Jun 2018 – Jan 2019 University of Utah, UT
Investigate chemodynamics of complex stellar populations in M31 using high resolution infrared spectroscopy data from APOGEE-2

Climate Literacy Research Intern

Advisor: Professor Adina Merenlender

Dec 2017 – Aug 2019 UC Berkeley, CA
Collect and analyze climate science syllabi content from undergraduate courses to inform the UC Climate Stewards Initiative

STRIDE/Special Studies Researcher

Advisor: Professor James Lowenthal

Sep 2016 – May 2020 Smith College, MA
Follow-up observations and photometric time domain analysis on K2 and TESS exoplanet candidates using Smith’s 16” telescope


  • The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Astronomy, Austin, TX, 78712, United States