Prize Recipient

Recipient Picture

Cailin Plunkett
Amherst College


"For the development of a novel method to compute survey sensitivity to accreting protoplanets."


Cailin Plunkett earned her B.A. in physics and math from Amherst College, graduating summa cum laude in 2023. She is now pursuing a Ph.D. at MIT studying gravitational-wave astrophysics with Professor Salvatore Vitale. At Amherst, she researched exoplanet direct imaging with Professor Katherine Follette. In her senior thesis, Cailin developed a method to investigate the population properties of still-forming planets. Her work enabled the first statistical analyses of their galactic distribution, bringing us closer to understanding the mechanisms by which planets form and evolve. She is thrilled to employ similar statistical methods to study compact objects in graduate school. She cemented her passions for gravitational waves and LIGO while working with Professor Katerina Chatziioannou at Caltech in 2021. Their research culminated in a talk at APS April, a Barry Goldwater Scholarship, and a publication in PRD. She continued studying gravitational waves in 2022 at the University of Michigan with Professor Keith Riles. Cailin loves mentoring and bringing astrophysics to others. Serving as a chair of the Department’s Climate Committee, a president of the physics & astronomy club, and a director of the observatory, Cailin led research and career workshops, community and outreach events, and worked to make physics accessible to all. When not doing physics, she is baking, biking, skiing, or hiking—exploring her childhood home of Northern California and her new home in the Northeast.