June 8th / 36 min

Sara Seager: Pushing boundaries through collaboration

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Sara Seager

Sara Seager

Astrophysicist and planetary scientist, MIT
About The Episode

If you’re lucky enough to look up into a clear night sky and see the thousands of stars visible to the naked eye, it’s hard not to wonder, “are there other planets like ours out there?” Our guest for this episode, Professor Sara Seager, is on a mission to discover potentially habitable planets outside our solar system. 

Sara is an astrophysicist and planetary scientist at MIT, and to discover these exoplanets, she relies not only on her own brilliance—she’s the recipient of a Macarthur Fellowship, otherwise known as the “Genius Grant”—but also on some pretty extreme collaboration across different disciplines.

In the course of our conversation, we talk to Sara about how these teams push beyond initial friction, and how giving herself permission to fail has driven much of her success. Sara is also the author of a memoir titled The Smallest Lights in the Universe, and we talk to her about the book and bringing her full self to work.


Sara Seager is the Class of 1941 Professor of Planetary Science, Professor of Physics, and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her past research is credited with laying the foundation for the field of exoplanet atmospheres, while her current research focuses on exoplanet atmospheres and the future search for signs of life by way of atmospheric biosignature gases. 

Professor Seager is involved with a number of space-based exoplanet searches including as the Deputy Science Director for the MIT-led NASA mission TESS, as the PI for the on-orbit JPL/MIT CubeSat ASTERIA, and as a lead for Starshade Rendezvous Mission (a space-based mission concept under technology development for direct imaging discovery and characterization of Earth analogs).

Having authored three of her own books (’The Smallest Lights in the Universe: a Memoir’, ‘Exoplanets and the Search For Habitable Worlds’, and ‘Exoplanet Atmospheres: Physical Processes’) and edited a fourth, Sara has experience consolidating years of research into an authoritative resource and is credited with producing a book that “will be a bible for students and professionals interested in exoplanet atmospheres.”

Meet Your Hosts

Aarron Walter
VP of Design Education

Aarron Walter is Director of Product on the COVID Response team at Resolve to Save Lives. Previously, he was VP of Design Education at InVision, and founded the UX practice at Mailchimp where he helped grow the product from a few thousand users to more than 10 million. He’s the author of a number of books, the latest of which is a second edition of Designing for Emotion. Aarron’s design guidance has helped the White House, the US Department of State, and dozens of major corporations, startups, and venture capital firms.

You can find Aarron on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Eli Woolery
Director of Design Education

Eli is the Director of Design Education at InVision. His design career spans both physical and digital products, and he has worked with companies ranging from startups (his own and others) to Fortune 500 companies.

In addition to his background in product and industrial design, he has been a professional photographer and filmmaker. He teaches the senior capstone class Implementation to undergraduate Product Designers at Stanford University. You can find Eli on Twitter and Medium.

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Uncover insights from the world’s top designers and creatives

In our sixth season, we’re looking beyond the design team to explore the far reaches of collaboration, and we’ll surface a cross-disciplinary approach to doing complex work with diverse teams.