Eric Bellm

Research Associate Professor


I am a Research Associate 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 Vera C. Rubin Observatory as well as Survey Scientist for the Zwicky Transient Facility.

I am using optical variability data to search for hidden populations of neutron star and black hole binaries in our Galaxy. My research includes observation, instrumentation, and large-scale data analysis.

Eric Bellm


I lead the team at the University of Washington building the real-time data processing pipelines for the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. The Rubin Observatory's Legacy Survey of Space and Time (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 the Rubin Observatory'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 data products will be suitable for the broad range of cutting-edge time-domain science that we expect the Rubin Observatory to enable.

I am particularly involved in the development of the Rubin Observatory alert stream, a real-time feed of the ten million moving, varying, or exploding objects the LSST will detect each night.

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory, April 2019. Credit LSST Project/NSF/AURA
I am the current Survey Scientist (and founding Project Scientist) for the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), an optical time-domain survey based at Palomar Observatory. Using a new camera with a 47 square degree field of view and fast readout, ZTF surveys the Northern Sky with unprecedented survey speed. It is now conducting a high cadence, wide area survey using novel scheduling algorithms that I developed.

ZTF achieved first light in October 2017 and is now in routine survey operations. It is regularly discovering young supernovae, rare classes of transients, variable stars and compact binaries, and solar system objects.

Half of the ZTF observing time is used for public surveys. Since June 2018, UW is using prototype Rubin Observatory tools to forward alerts from these surveys to community brokers in near real time. Bulk public access to these alerts is also available.

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

ZTF's Galactic Plane surveys provide fertile ground for identifying new compact binaries through their optical variability. I am conducting large-scale searches for these systems using powerful new data-mining tools.

Fermi has discovered many millisecond pulsars eclipsing and ablating low-mass companions--"Black Widow" and "redback" systems. 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.

Compact Binary

I regularly mentor, co-mentor, and collaborate with undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs.

Graduate students: David Wang, Andy Tzanidakis, Tom Wagg, Francisca Chabour Barra

Postdoctoral Scholars: Rebecca Phillipson (2020-21; MPS ASCEND Fellow, 2021-22), now MSP ASCEND Fellow, Villanova; Keaton Bell (NSF Fellow, 2019-22), now faculty, Queen's College, CUNY; K. Azalee Bostroem (DIRAC Fellow, 2021-22), now LSSTC Catalyst Fellow, Arizona

Graduate students: Myles McKay (2020; single-quarter project), Mikhaela Gallardo (2019; summer project), Kellen Lawson (Univ. of Oklahoma) (2017; summer project)

Undergraduate students: Allison Crossland (2022-23), Giovanni Gollotti (2023), Rebecca Kyer (PreMAP 2019; 2019-21), now graduate school, Michigan State; Courtney Klein (with Jim Davenport; 2018-21), now graduate school, UC Irvine; AuDuyen Trinh (PreMAP, 2020); Simon Dawson (PreMAP, 2020); Abbas Jaffery (PreMAP, 2019); Konstantina Mason (PreMAP, 2019); Colton Peterson (PreMAP, 2019); Pricilla Dohrwardt (2019); Ryan Jackim (2018), now grad school at UBC; Franklin Marsh (2015, 2016), now at LinkedIn; Gandalf Saxe (2014); Talia Minear (2014); Rebecca Tang (2013)

AAS poster

My graduate and postdoctoral research included studies of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) as well as high-energy instrumentation. I was a member of the NuSTAR commissioning team and flew a gamma-ray Compton telescope on stratospheric balloons.

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.

I participated in two campaigns of the balloon-borne gamma-ray Nuclear Compton Telescope, a predecessor to the COSI 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


ASTR 597A "Astronomy with Rubin Observatory and LSST" (Winter 2023)


Research Associate Professor, University of Washington 2023-
Research Assistant Professor, University of Washington 2017-2023
Postdoctoral Scholar, Caltech 2011-2017
Ph.D., Physics, U.C. Berkeley 2011
A.B., Physics & Astronomy, Harvard College 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 ∝
Github: ebellm
Privacy | Terms