Eric Bellm

Research Assistant Professor


I am a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Washington and a Fellow of the DIRAC Institute.

I am leading the development of major portions of two new large optical time-domain surveys. I am the Alert Production Science Lead for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope as well as Survey Scientist for the Zwicky Transient Facility.

I use optical variability data to classify high-energy sources, particularly compact binaries. My research includes observation, instrumentation, and large-scale data analysis.

Eric Bellm


I lead the team at the University of Washington building the LSST real-time data processing pipelines. LSST will generate about 15 terabytes of images each night. Our software will rapidly process these images, subtract them from templates derived from past LSST images, identify and characterize all of the moving and varying objects, and package and distribute these alerts to the world--all within 60 seconds of the shutter closing!

Meeting LSST's stringent performance targets requires us to extend the state of the art in algorithms for calibration, astrometry, image differencing, atmospheric characterization, and more. I am responsible for ensuring that the LSST data products will be suitable for the broad range of cutting-edge time-domain science that we expect LSST to enable.

Artist rendering of LSST.  Credit LSST Project/NSF/AURA
I am the current Survey Scientist (and founding Project Scientist) for the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), a next-generation optical time-domain survey based on the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF). With the benefit of a new camera with a 47 square degree field of view and faster readout, ZTF will survey more than an order of magnitude faster than PTF and conduct an unprecedented high cadence, wide area survey.

ZTF will discover a young supernovae every night, identify rare classes of transients, and produce an all-sky variability catalog with more than 250 epochs per field each year. First light is expected in 2017. ZTF will use half of its observing time for public surveys that will include near real-time public transient alerts.

ZTF Camera in the P48.  Image Credit Michael Feeney/Roger Smith/Caltech

Fermi has discovered many millisecond pulsars eclipsing and ablating low-mass companions--"Black Widow" and "redback" systems. I am conducting photometric and radial-velocity followup to model these systems, measure the masses of the neutron stars, and understand their evolutionary history.

My study of the unique redback MSP binary PSR J2129-0429 revealed that it has a heavy neutron star of 1.7 solar masses as well as an unexpected optical dimming on a timescale of years. The system sits in an unusual region of binary evolution phase space, exactly at the bifurcation period between converging and diverging binaries

NuSTAR's high-sensitivity and continuous energy coverage enables some of the best spectroscopy of X-ray binaries. My analysis of the cyclotron line in the Be/X-ray binary GRO J1008-57 confirmed its high magnetic field.

Compact Binary

Increasingly sensitive measurements of gamma-ray bursts continue to reveal new complexity in the emission mechanisms.

With NuSTAR, I discovered an unusual extra component in the late-time X-ray afterglow of the ultra-long GRB130925A. In contrast, NuSTAR data for the bright nearby GRB130427A was consistent with emission by a single mechanism.

In my dissertation, I evaluated multi-component "quasi-thermal" spectral models of the GRB prompt emission using RHESSI and Swift.


As part of my dissertation work, I participated in two campaigns of the balloon-borne gamma-ray Nuclear Compton Telescope. I maintained the flight control software and calibrated its effective area and polarization response for future observations of GRBs.

Our 2009 New Mexico flight yielded the first image of the Crab Nebula by a compact Compton telescope. I led our 2010 Alice Springs campaign, directing shipping logistics, field operations, and interfaces with NASA and the media.

My campaign blog chronicled these adventures.

Balloon launch


Research Assistant Professor, University of Washington 2017-
Postdoctoral Scholar, Caltech 2011-2017
Ph.D., Physics, U.C. Berkeley 2011
A.B., Physics & Astronomy, Harvard 2005


My papers on ADS.

Complete CV (pdf).


Phone: 206-685-2112
Office: PAT C308
Box 351580
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195


Email: ecbellm ∝
Twitter: @ebellm
Github: ebellm
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