Sciences and Exploration Directorate

Neil Zimmerman

(Rsch AST, Stlr Galctic&Xtrgltc Astr)

Neil Zimmerman's Contact Card & Information.
Phone: 301.286.3328
Org Code: 667
Mail Code 667
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Research Interests

Exoplanet imaging and spectroscopy

Astrophysics: Extrasolar planets

Astrophysical data simulation, calibration, post-processing, and inference

Astrophysics: Technology & Missions

Coronagraph design, modeling, and optimization; integral field spectroscopy techniques.

Astrophysics: Technology & Missions

Instrument technology demonstrations for future space missions.

Astrophysics: Technology & Missions

Current Projects

Coronagraph Scientist, Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope

Technology & Missions

Integral Field Spectroscopy Task Lead, Exoplanet Spectroscopy Technologies Project

Technology & Missions

HabWorlds Observatory Precursor Science: Habitable Exoplanet Biosignature Data Challenge

Extrasolar planets


Research Astrophysicist

Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt, MD

January 2017 - Present

Support Scientist

Space Telescope Science Institute - Baltimore, MD

August 2015 - January 2017

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Princeton University - Princeton, NJ

January 2014 - August 2015

Postdoctoral Fellow

Max Planck Institute for Astronomy - Heidelberg, Germany

October 2011 - December 2013


Ph.D., Astronomy, Columbia University, 2011

M.Phil., Astronomy, Columbia University, 2008

M.E., Electrical Engineering, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, 2006

B.E., Electrical Engineering, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, 2004


  • NASA GSFC Special Act Award for Roman Wide Field Instrument Delivery and Testing (2023)
  • Robert H. Goddard Honor Award for LUVOIR Science Support \& Analysis Team (2021)
  • NASA GSFC Special Act Award for Leadership Role in the Roman CGI Data Challenge (2021)
  • NASA GSFC Special Act Award for Astro2020 Decadal Survey White Paper Review (2020)
  • NASA GSFC Special Act Award for Exoplanet Spectroscopy Work Package Team (2019)
  • NASA GSFC Astrophysics Science Division Peer Award (2018)

Professional Service

  • Panelist, NASA Goddard Astrophysics Science Division IRAD
  • Program Technical Reviewer for Phase 1 NASA SBIR/STTR Proposals
  • Panelist, NSF Advanced Technologies and Instrumentation (ATI) Program
  • Red Team Reviewer, Goddard Science Proposal Support Office
  • Panelist, Goddard Astrophysics Science Division Peer Awards
  • Panelist, NASA Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences APRA/SAT Program
  • Referee, SPIE Journal of Astronomical Telescopes, Instruments, and Systems (JATIS)
  • Referee, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (PASP)
  • Referee, AAS Journals (Astronomical Journal, Astrophysical Journal)
  • Referee, Astronomy & Astrophysics

Special Experience

  • Integral Field Spectroscopy Lead for the Exoplanet Spectroscopy Technologies (ExoSpec) Project – The ExoSpec Project is a multi-disciplinary effort to develop strategic technologies for the characterization of Earth-like exoplanets with a future Habitable Worlds Observatory. High-contrast Integral Field Spectroscopy (IFS) is one of the four tasks comprising this effort. Responsible for leading broadband high-contrast demonstrations combining prototype IFS instruments with coronagraph testbeds, and leading the design of a new IFS for the JPL High Contrast Imaging Testbed facility. Developed high-fidelity astrophysical data simulations for optical design trades and investigations of planet atmosphere parameter retrieval.

  • Coronagraph Scientist for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope Project – Served as the coronagraph subject expert in the GSFC Roman Project Science office since the mission formulation phase through PDR, CDR, implementation, and the current integration & testing phase. Technical contributions to various data post-processing, simulation, and analysis activities in collaboration with project team members at JPL and members of the formulation phase Science Investigation Teams. Assessed the performance of the re-planned spectroscopic observing mode, spectroscopic data simulation and calibration algorithm development, definition of operations concept and ground software, and planning integration & test verification activities. Serving as the ex-officio GSFC Project representative on the Roman Coronagraph Participation Program team convened in 2023, interfacing with external scientists who will assist in planning, executing, and maximizing the scientific return of the Roman Coronagraph technology demonstration.

  • Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope Wide Field Calibration Working Group – Served as Co-Chair of the Calibration WG from 2021 to present. This group draws on expertise and analysis from across the community of wide field science stakeholders, science centers, and project staff. Organized biweekly telecons on topics spanning all Wide Field Instrument data calibration areas, including ground test results, detector performance, photometry, spectroscopy, cosmic ray mitigation, and transmission calibration. Coordinated WG inputs for a Project-led Calibration Peer Review held in 2021, with presentations on flight calibration plans and error budgets. Convened a series of splinter meetings about proof-of-concept tests for Relative Calibration System for detector nonlinearity corrections critical to meeting high-level science requirements.

  • Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope Exoplanet Imaging Data Challenge – Senior technical and organization role in a community data challenge that took place during 2018–2021, led by Roman Coronagraph science team P.I. Margaret Turnbull. Responsibilities included the definition of the exoplanetary system architecture, assembling a physically self-consistent model of a time-varying multi-planet and circumstellar debris scene with sources of background confusion, and constructing simulated noisy data products which combined instrument diffraction models with time series models of residual starlight and detector noise. Prepared and presented introductory lectures and coronagraph data analysis tutorial notebooks at four data challenge participant workshops organized for grad students and early career researchers. Collected, analyzed, and scored the final results from challenge participants.

  • LUVOIR Science Support & Analysis Team – Significant technical contributions to the conception and design of a coronagraph instrument for the Large UV/Optical/IR (LUVOIR) mission concept. Carried out coronagraph design parameter surveys, modeled engineering tolerances and aberration sensitivities, and provided inputs for exoplanet survey yield models. Participated in design trade discussions with members of the LUVOIR Science and Technology Definition Team, and reported on progress and instrument modeling results to community stakeholders. Led the development of a high-fidelity coronagraph data simulation framework for the LUVOIR coronagraph instrument, incorporating realistic time-varying telescope wavefront errors and detector noise, culminating in the illustration of a simulated observation of an exoplanetary system hosting an Earth-like planet.

  • Segmented Coronagraph Design & Analysis – Managed Goddard’s contribution to the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program’s Segmented Coronagraph Design & Analysis study between 2019–2022. Propagated dynamical telescope wavefront error time series through a numerical diffraction model of an Apodized Pupil Lyot Coronagraph; simulated high-order wavefront sensing & control with two deformable mirrors; computed the sensitivity of coronagraph performance and exo-Earth survey yield estimates to wavefront aberration modes.

Selected Publications


2022. "Simulated design trades for a visible-wavelength integral field spectrograph operating behind a space coronagraph." Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2022: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave [10.1117/12.2630443] [Proceedings]

2022. "Modeling and performance analysis of the LUVOIR coronagraph instrument." Journal of Astronomical Telescopes, Instruments, and Systems 8 (03): [10.1117/1.jatis.8.3.034001] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Simulating Reflected Light Exoplanet Spectra of the Promising Direct Imaging Target, υ Andromedae d, with a New, Fast Sampling Method Using the Planetary Spectrum Generator." The Astronomical Journal 162 (1): 30 [10.3847/1538-3881/abf657] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Community exoplanet imaging data challenge for Roman CGI and starshade rendezvous." Journal of Astronomical Telescopes, Instruments, and Systems 7 (02): [10.1117/1.jatis.7.2.021218] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Roman Space Telescope CGI: prism and polarizer characterization modes." Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2020: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave [10.1117/12.2562925] [Proceedings]

2020. "ExoSpec project: an exoplanet spectroscopy technology research collaboration based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Ames Research Center." Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2020: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave [10.1117/12.2562872] [Proceedings]

2019. "Development of the WFIRST CGI integral field spectrograph." Techniques and Instrumentation for Detection of Exoplanets IX [10.1117/12.2530731] [Proceedings]

2019. "The LUVOIR Extreme Coronagraph for Living Planetary Systems (ECLIPS) I: searching and characterizing exoplanetary gems." Techniques and Instrumentation for Detection of Exoplanets IX [10.1117/12.2530722] [Proceedings]

2018. "WFIRST CGI integral field spectrograph performance and post-processing in the OS6 observing scenario." Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2018: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave [10.1117/12.2312400] [Proceedings]

2017. "Finding the Needles in the Haystacks: High-fidelity Models of the Modern and Archean Solar System for Simulating Exoplanet Observations." Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 129 (982): 124401 [10.1088/1538-3873/aa8fc4] [Journal Article/Letter]

2016. "Shaped pupil Lyot coronagraphs: high-contrast solutions for restricted focal planes." Journal of Astronomical Telescopes, Instruments, and Systems 2 (1): 011012 [10.1117/1.jatis.2.1.011012] [Journal Article/Letter]