Brian Abbott

Assistant Director, Hayden Planetarium

Brian Abbott portrait


I focus on data visualization and cosmic cartography. My training in astrophysics allows me to interpret scientific research and distill the results into products and presentations that result in a greater public understanding of the universe.

Brian Abbott presenting the moon formation sequence to an audience in the planetarium.
Brian Abbott presenting the moon formation in the planetarium.
M. Shanley/©AMNH

I am committed to professional mentoring, and was a group leader and committee member in Women in Natural Sciences' (WINS) Mentoring Circles program.

I am also a active member, and was chair, of AMNH's Pride group, an employee resource group where we advocate for LGBTIA+ issues.


M.S. in Physics, University of Toledo
Thesis: Ionization and Mass-loss for Rapidly Rotating Near Main-sequence B Stars.
Research areas: Modified radiative transfer codes to explore the 3-D wind structure and composition in rapidly rotating stars.
Advisor: Jon Bjorkman

B.S. in Astronomy & Astrophysics, Villanova University
Research areas: Light-curve analysis and photometry of binary stars, spectral analysis of variable stars, and cataclysmic variable stars using the Villanova University Observatory, remote telescopes on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, the International Ultraviolet Explorer, and the Hubble Space Telescope.
Advisors: Edward Guinan and Edward Sion

Research Interests

Digital Universe

One of my main areas of focus is the Digital Universe atlas, a multidimensional atlas of the universe. I harvest data from scientists, curate the atlas for scientific accuracy, develop scientific stories and visualizations around the atlas, and distribute the Digital Universe to planetariums and the public. Data in the atlas provide a foundation for numerous outlets inside and outside AMNH, such as space shows, video series, live educational programming, and astrophysical research. The atlas is freely available in the AMNH-co-produced software OpenSpace.

Cosmic View of Life

Cosmic View of Life is a new endeavor to create the first 3-D tree of life diagram based solely on DNA samples from the Barcode of Life Data System. Working with biologists at the University of Basel in Switzerland, data analysts, software engineers, and graduate students from University of Linköping in Sweden, and colleagues here at AMNH, we are mapping out DNA samples in three dimensions using OpenSpace. It may shed new understandings about how life is organized with respect to the species we know today.

Skylight Video Series

Skylight (on hiatus due to the pandemic) is a short-form video series designed to marry high-quality visuals with clear stories that communicate the science of the universe within the context of the night sky.


(Abridged. A complete list appears on my curriculum vitae.)

Faherty, J.; Abbott, B.; Alsegard, A.; Emmart, C.; Bock, A.; Axelsson, E.; Ynnerman, A.; Acinapura, M.; OpenSpace Project (2020). Visualizing a Billion Stars for Science and Education, Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, Vol. 52, No. 1.

Gemma, M. E.; Roe, C.; Emmart, C.; Trakinski, V.; Smith, R. L.; Acinapura, M.; Abbott, B.; Ebel, D.S.; Kinzler, R. (2020). OpenSpace: Development Updates and Education Applications, 51st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

Brian Abbott (2019). Digital Universe Guide, AMNH.

Brian Abbott (2018). Digital Universe Atlas: The Grand Tour, AMNH.

Brian Abbott (2018). Partiview Quick Start Guide, AMNH.

Brian Abbott, Editor (2015). The Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VIII: City of Stars, (San Francisco: Astronomical Society of the Pacific), Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series, vol. 501.

Teaching Experience

Public Programs


Presenter for the planetarium's public programs for over twenty years, where I take audiences on a guided tour of the universe, explaining the science of the cosmos while immersed in our 3-D atlas of the planets, stars, and galaxies.

Professional Development & Training

Developed and run the training of all presenters for public programs in the planetarium involving the Digital Universe. Focused on software and speak for an audience in the theater.

Hayden Courses

Developed and taught several courses involving exploring the universe in the planetarium. Envisioning the Virtual Universe was a popular, six-week course highlighting how to use the Digital Universe atlas, some principles of data visualization, and astrophysics. Digital Universe Flight School was a six-week course where students learn the Digital Universe atlas and the planetarium software to author their own mini planetarium show, which they present to a public audience.

Advisor & Mentor

Serves as an advisor or mentor for science and non-science students since 2001 at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate level.