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Appointment of Alison L. Coil as Inaugural Chair of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics

September 21, 2023 | By Michelle Franklin

The School of Physical Sciences is pleased to announce the appointment of Alison L. Coil as the inaugual chair of UC San Diego’s new Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. She joined UC San Diego in 2008 and currently holds the Ingrid and Joseph W. Hibben Chair in Space Science and Education.

As an observational astrophysicist, Coil studies how galaxies evolve with cosmic time and how they are influenced by the large-scale structure of the universe. More recently, her research has focused on gas flows into and out of galaxies — a relatively new field that has major implications for galaxy creation and evolution. Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

Alison Coil
cr: Michelle Fredricks/UC San Diego
Coil has been interested in astronomy since high school when she began attending lectures from astrophysicists, including Stephen Hawking. She earned her bachelor’s from Princeton University and her master’s and doctorate from UC Berkeley. While at Berkeley, she had her first opportunity to use the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawai’i observing thousands of distant galaxies and tracing the large-scale structure of the early universe, relevant to understanding cosmological properties such as dark matter and dark energy. In fact, continued access to Keck was one of the reasons she chose to come to UC San Diego.

In 2018, Coil was named the School of Physical Sciences inauguaral associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). During her tenure as associate dean, she developed and implemented a process for hiring faculty with a demonstrated commitment to EDI; created the School of Physical Sciences EDI Excellence Awards; and led UC San Diego’s only school-wide faculty committee on EDI issues. She has twice received UC San Diego’s Diversity Award.

Teaching and mentoring are priorities for Coil, who places high value on mentoring students, postdoctorals scholars and junior faculty. In 2019, she received UC San Diego’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

She also led the task force that petitioned UC San Diego to make astronomy and astrophysics a standalone department. After a yearslong process, the new department officially launched last July, and Coil was chosen to be the inaugural chair.

Throughout her career, Coil has received numerous fellowships and awards for her outstanding research including the NSF CAREER Award, Sloan Fellowship, Kavli Frontier Fellowship, Hellman Faculty Fellowship and Hubble Postdoctoral Fellowship. She has been published over 200 times and is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“As one of the founding faculty members of Astronomy & Astrophysics, I am thrilled to be working under Alison Coil as the inaugural chair,”  stated Dean of the School of Physical Sciences Steven E. Boggs. “Her leadership experience and renown as a researcher will be invaluable in establishing the prestige of the new department.”