Julia was born in Washington, DC and raised in Bethesda, MD by her parents Ron & Jane. She has two beautiful and talented sisters Mallory and Erin. She attended Wood Acres Elementary School, which has a small planetarium and sparked her interest in Astronomy at a young age. Her interest was fostered by her parents and by frequent visits to the Air & Space museum in DC. She carried her interest in Astronomy with her to college in Boulder to study at the University of Colorado (CU) where she worked at Fiske Planetarium and competed on their Track & Field team (as a sprinter and long jumper). During her undergraduate studies she took a class called ET Life taught by Dr. John Bally and was exposed to the awesome field of Astrobiology. She couldn’t contain her enthusiasm and interest for the subject, so she, and fellow colleague, Giada Arney (now at the University of Washington) started the first Astrobiology Club at CU. Julia and Giada ran the Astrobiology club for four years, and some might argue that it was some of the best times ever and have since declared themselves siblings.
During their leadership of the Astrobiology Club, they invited a guest speaker, Dr. Webster Cash, to present about his proposed NASA mission called the New Worlds Observer (NWO). NWO is a space-based exoplanet imaging mission, with capabilities to actually observe exoplanets and analyze their atmospheres. Julia, Giada, and fellow Astrobiology Club member Rebecca Mickol, thought this mission was the bees knees and knocked on Dr. Cash’s door to offer any help towards the mission. All three were fortunate and were hired to work for the mission and the three shared an office cubical and were once referred to as the “Three Musketeers.”
It was during that time that Julia became increasingly interested in art (particularly B&W film photography and oil painting), trail running and triathlons. Julia displayed art at several shows in Boulder, competed on the CU triathlon team and competed in her first 50km trail run, and 100 mile bike ride. It was a time of science, art, sweat, blisters, and chaffing.
Julia’s time with the NWO team has allowed her to attend conferences in the US and internationally, where she met many wonderful-like minded people and saw a little bit of the world. Unfortunately, funding for New Worlds Observer was diminishing, and she picked up a job working at an Ethiopian Restaurant in Boulder, took a few grad classes, embraced Boulder stereotypes and got into rock climbing, yoga, Buddhist philosophy, and veganism. In 2010, she decided that she wanted to give graduate school a try and was accepted into the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. She sold most of her belongings, and moved into a friends attic to save money, and worked part-time at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science as Dr. David Grinspoon’s research assistant.
In September 2010, Julia began her masters degree in Space Studies at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. She lived in a tiny attic loft in an old creeky Alsacian apartment above a quaint café right next to a giant cathedral in the center of town – with an Indian and Canadian roommate. If she could summarize her year in three words it would be space, curry, and adventure… you’ll notice that “sleep” was not included in the summary. The school year was jammed packed to the brim with classes, projects, assignments, and adventuring. She focused her studies on the social aspects of Astrobiology during the school year, and was in the Life Science’s track, dealing with the affects of microgravity, and radiation on life (human and otherwise), and how to how to go potty in space (it’s a lot more complicated than you might think!).
A three-month internship brought her to Mountain View, California to intern under the wing of Astrobio rock star Dr. Chris McKay at NASA Ames Research Center. Unfortunately, the internship was unpaid, so Julia lived in a yellow VW hippie bus named Doo-dah (thanks to the generosity of her friend Shawn McGlynn). Julia thought living in a van in the NASA parking lot would be really cool, but the NASA police didn’t like the idea. With no thanks to Officer Valencia, Julia had to look for alternatives places to park. Blonde beauty, Estelle Dodson, of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, kindly let Julia stay in her driveway for the most of the summer. Sanjoy Som, fellow BMS-er and SAGAN-naut, also let Julia house-sit whilst he was away doing field research, and just happen to coincide with the writing of a 40 page research paper.