Aparna Venkatesan

Aparna Venkatesan


Full-Time Faculty


Aparna Venkatesan is a cosmologist working on studies of “first-light” sources in the universe. She also works actively in cultural astronomy and space policy. She is recognized internationally for her research and DEI leadership, featured widely in the media, and received numerous prizes and awards. Dr. Venkatesan is deeply committed to increasing the participation and retention of underrepresented groups in astronomy and the sciences, and is active in developing co-created scientific partnerships with Indigenous communities worldwide. Dr. Venkatesan has worked with numerous undergraduate students in her research; 90% have been women and/or minorities, and about half have gone on to STEM careers. In the past few years, Dr. Venkatesan has been leading work in dark-sky advocacy and preserving space as a scientific, environmental and cultural resource for humanity, given the growing privatization of space and the rapidly rising impacts of satellite constellations in low-Earth orbits. She has been featured dozens of times in recent years in major news publications, media, and events. She serves as a co-director of the Tracy Seeley Center for Teaching Excellence.


  • Cosmology
  • Cultural Astronomy
  • Dark Sky Advocacy
  • Impacts of Satellite Constellations
  • STEM partnerships with Indigenous communities, Indigenous Knowledge

Research Areas

  • Cosmology (First Stars and Quasars, Reionization)
  • Space Policy and Impacts of Satellite Constellations
  • Cultural Astronomy, Indigenous Knowledge
  • Astrophysics


  • Co-Director of the Tracy Seeley Center for Teaching Excellence (2022-25)
  • Co-Chair of the American Astronomical Society Committee for the Protection of Astronomy and the Space Environment (AAS COMPASSE; 2022-24)
  • Member of the AAS Committee for the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (2015–19), and the AAS Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy (2016–19, co-Chair for 2016–17)
  • Chair, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of San Francisco (2014-16)


  • MS and PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago
  • BA in Astronomy, Cornell University

Prior Experience

  • Postdoctoral Research Associate and NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Colorado, Boulder

Awards & Distinctions

  • Lead USF Faculty Member in consortium, The Undergraduate ALFALFA Team (UAT), awarded three 3-year NSF collaborative grants for $128,391 (2021–2024), $215,316 (2016– 2019) and $437,883 (2012–2015)
  • One of VICE Media’s Humans of the Year, 2020
  • Research Corporation Cottrell Scholar (2018) and Cottrell College Science Award (2010-13)
  • University of San Francisco: Arthur Furst Award (2018), Co-recipient of the College of Arts and Sciences Collective Achievement Award for Supporting Women in STEM Fields (2018), Dean's Scholar Award (2013), and Jesuit Foundation Grant (2012)

Selected Publications

Media & Talks

Recent and Upcoming Talks

Recent Podcasts