Astronomer Natalie Batalha elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

The academy's class of 2019 also includes UCSC alumnus Joe Palca, as well as Michelle Obama and Jonathan Franzen

Natalie Batalha
Natalie Batalha

Natalie Batalha, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious honorary societies.

Batalha was among more than 200 new members of the academy announced this week, including former first lady Michelle Obama, author Jonathan Franzen, and NPR science correspondent (and UCSC alumnus) Joe Palca. Batalha joins 23 other UCSC faculty who are fellows of the academy.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences honors exceptional scholars, leaders, artists, and innovators and engages them in sharing knowledge and addressing challenges facing the world.

Batalha is an eminent planetary astronomer who served in multiple science leadership roles for NASA’s highly successful Kepler Mission, which discovered over 2,700 exoplanets and another 2,000 candidates awaiting confirmation. She earned her Ph.D. in astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz in 1997 and received the campus's Alumni Achievement Award in 2018.

The Kepler Mission launched in 2009 to determine the frequency of Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of sun-like stars. Batalha got involved early on, when it was still in the proposal stage, and she contributed to many different aspects of the science, from studying the stars themselves to detecting and understanding the planets they harbor. In 2017, she was named to Time magazine’s list of the “100 most influential people in the world.”

Batalha joined the astronomy faculty at UC Santa Cruz in fall 2018. Her research focuses on exploring the diversity of planets in our galaxy. She is also bringing multiple disciplines of study together to explore the broader question of planetary habitability.

“With the election of these members, the Academy upholds the ideals of research and scholarship, creativity and imagination, intellectual exchange and civil discourse, and the relentless pursuit of knowledge in all its forms,” said academy president David Oxtoby.

Academy members include those who discover and advance knowledge and those who apply knowledge to the problems of society. Elected members join with other experts in cross-disciplinary efforts to produce reflective, independent, and pragmatic studies that inform public policy and advance the public good.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony in October 2019 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A complete listing of the 238th class of new members is available at