James W. Johnson

Astrophysicist - Presidential Fellow - Software Developer


"To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit."
-Stephen Hawking
The Big Bang produced only hydrogen, helium, and trace amounts of lithium. Everything else was synthesized in stars - from the carbon in our cells and the oxygen we breathe to the silicon in our computers. This is what Carl Sagan meant in his famous quote "We are made of star-stuff."

My research focuses on this connection between star formation and the distribution of the elements in the universe. Being the sites of star formation and supernovae in the universe, galaxies are like petri dishes of their own nuclear reactions, retaining the nuclear products that come out of their own stars. By studying the present-day chemical content of the stars and gas within galaxies, we can learn about its star formation history.

I am a theorist, so my work draws heavily on numerical modeling and statistical methods. As a proud computer nerd, I therefore spend a portion of my time developing new astronomical computer programs to share with the rest of the community.

For more details, check out the description of my research for astronomers!


"The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives."
-Lilly Walters
Check out the slides from a few of my recent seminars and conference presentations!
I gave this talk at the 2021 SDSS Collaboration Meeting, held virtually. I gave a talk with similar content at the 2021 GALAH Science Meeting - check out the YouTube recording!
I gave this talk at the 2020 SDSS Collaboration Meeting, held virtually.
I gave this talk in the Inter[stellar+galactic] Medium Program of Studies Seminar at the University of California Santa Cruz Department of Astronomy in May of 2019.


"The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime."
-Babe Ruth
Thesis Committee
David H. Weinberg
[Distinguished Univ. Prof., Ohio State]
Jennifer A. Johnson
[Professor, Ohio State]
Christopher S. Kochanek
[Professor, Ohio State]
Students and Mentees
Daniel Boyea
[Undergraduate Student, Ohio State]
Liam O. Dubay
[Graduate Student, Ohio State]
Miqaela Weller
[Graduate Student, Ohio State]
Other Collaborators
Charlie Conroy
[Prof. of Astronomy, Harvard University]
Emily J. Griffith
[NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, CU Boulder]
Jonathan C. Bird
[VIDA Postdoctoral Fellow, Vanderbilt Univ.]
Krzysztof Z. Stanek
[Professor, Ohio State]
Ari Bredall
[Graduate Student, Ohio state]
Ryan J. Cooke
[Assoc. Prof., Durham Univ.]
Fiorenzo Vincenzo
[Asst. Prof., Univ. of Hull]


"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires."
-William Arthur Ward

If you're looking to improve your skills with python, check out this python bootcamp that I constructed myself! I've run this bootcamp every May since 2020, and I recently recruited several of my graduate student classmates as instructors so that the program can continue after I leave Ohio State. The material covers everything from basic usage of python and the Unix terminal up to object-oriented programming, including inheritance and composition.

Even as a graduate student, I've had the pleasure of mentoring some of my more junior classmates as well as an undergraduate student in their research projects:
  • Daniel Boyea (undergraduate)
  • Liam Dubay (graduate)
  • Miqaela Weller (graduate)

During my time at Ohio State, I served as a graduate teaching assistant for:
  • Astronomy 1101: From Planets to Cosmos (5 sections)
  • Astronomy 1140: Planets and the Solar System (1 section)
  • Astronomy 1142: Black Holes (1 section)
  • Astronomy 1221: Astronomy Data Analysis (1 section)

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

"Space is for everybody. It's not for a few people in science or math, or for a select group of astronauts. That's our new frontier out there, and it's everybody's business to know about space."
-Christa McAuliffe
I am on the leadership committe of Polaris, an entirely graduate student led organization dedicated to fostering a more inclusive environment and improving the retention of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in Physics and Astronomy at Ohio State. To this end, Polaris focuses on fostering a sense of belonging, developing a science identity, and improving self-efficacy among students.
Polaris's first and foremost initiative is its mentorship course offered to students in their first two years of Ohio State math, physics, and astronomy bachelors programs. While initiating discussion about the status of diversity in STEM, this course also pairs students with graduate and upper-level undergraduate mentors who will help them learn to maintain a mentor-mentee relationship, develop goals, communicate effectively, and harness mentorship as a pathway to academic excellence.
The Undergraduate Residential Summer Access (URSA) early arrival program takes place every summer in the two weeks leading up to the start of fall semester classes. Offered to incoming first-year and transfer students, URSA aims to build a cohort among the incoming students and familiarize them with Ohio State's campus to ease their transition to university-level academics. URSA also introduces the students to various research programs in Ohio State physics and astronomy and discusses how diversity and equity might impact their experience as rising STEM students.
I am also a regular participant of Ohio State Astronomy's Diversity Journal Club, a recurring meeting focused on the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion not only in astronomy and astrophysics, but in academia as a whole. With dedicated time for discussion, these seminars also focus on steps this department can take to improve the current situation facing minority groups.

About Me

"Astronomy compels the soul to look upward, and leads us from this world to another."
I am an astrophysicist in the sixth and final year of my Ph.D. at The Ohio State University Department of Astronomy. This year, I am supported financially by a Presidential Fellowship, the most prestigious award given by the Ohio State Graduate School.

I was born on May 4, 1995 in Iowa City, Iowa, but grew up and attended school in Lincoln, Nebraska, graduating from Lincoln East High School in May 2013. From there I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where I earned my Bachelor's Degree in Physics & Astronomy from Vanderbilt University in May 2017. During my undergraduate I briefly lived in Berlin, Germany, studying the German Language and the history of Nazi Germany at the Freie Universität Berlin. After graduating from Vanderbilt, I moved to Columbus, Ohio in August 2017 to begin my graduate level studies at Ohio State.

Aside from astronomy, I enjoy petting dogs, traveling, playing the guitar, cooking, video games, stand-up comedy, and watching sports - particularly Football.

Contact Me

Have a research question you'd like to discuss?