About Me

I am a PhD candidate in Astronomy and Instrumentation at Leiden University, whose work focuses on detecting exoplanets. With Prof. Ignas Snellen and Prof. Frans Snik, my main project is on the Dutch work package for the HARPS3 instrument, to be commisioned on the Isaac Newton Telescope (INT) on La Palma as part of the Terra Hunting Experiment (more information on HARPS3 and the Terra Hunting Experiment can be found here). This primary project relates to the design, construction, and verification of the Cassegrain Adaptor Unit and Calibration Unit, including the optical design, mechanical specifications, and full end-to-end systems tests and considerations to meet the scientific requirements of HARPS3. Much of this work relates to the polarimetric requirements, which require special considerations in both design and verification tests.

Alongside this work, I have two secondary projects. The first one relates to developing methods to mitigate stellar activity noise in radial velocity techniques. I adapted techniques currently used to characterize exoplanet atmospheres to instead characterize a measure of starspot activity on the surface of an unresolved star in unpolarized light, which is then used to remove the starspot's influence on the radial velocity measurements. I expect the paper to be submitted before the end of 2020. The second project relates to work that I've continued and expanded from the Master's thesis - observing stars with the MASCARA and bRing photometric observatories to find transiting planets around bright stars. I help maintain the network, reduce data, and search for periodic signals in the MASCARA and bRing data, and collaborate with an international team for obtaining radial velocity data on candidates that we find.

I was born and grew up in Toronto, Canada, obtaining my High School diploma from De La Salle "Oaklands" and my BSc Honours from the University of Toronto, with a Specialization in Physics and a Major in Astronomy. During my bachelor's, I worked on two separate projects. My bachelor's thesis was done under the supervision of Professor Shelley Wright for the first near-infrared SETI instrument, commissioned in March 2015. My second project was done with Professor Keith Vanderlinde, and was on making anti-reflection lenslets for the SPT-3G instrument. At Leiden University for my Master's degree, I worked with Prof. Matthew Kenworthy on building an instrument called bRing to observe the Hill sphere transit of β Pictoris b, which I still work on to detect exoplanets as part of my PhD.

Outside of science, my hobbies include tabletop RPGs, 3D printing, board games, sci-fi and fantasy books, and camping. I believe that astronomers must commit to new ways to reduce our carbon footprints, and enjoy discussions on that topic. I am a firm believer in human rights, and as such stand in support and work to do my best to be an ally of LGBTQ+ communities and Black Lives Matter.


Sept-2017 - Present

PhD - HARPS3 Instrumentation, Mitigating Stellar Activity Noise in RV, and MASCARA

Under the supervision of Professor Ignas Snellen and Dr. Frans Snik, I am designing, building, and testing the HARPS3 Cassegrain Adaptor Unit with the NOVA team at Dwingeloo, keeping careful consideration of the polarimetric performance of this instrument. I also work on finding new methods to reduce the impact of stellar activity on radial velocity measurements in order to find true Earth-twins, and work on trying to find transiting exoplanets around bright stars with the MASCARA and bRing photometric instruments.

Aug-2016 - Aug-2017

MSc Thesis Project - bRING, an Optical Instrument to Observe β Pictoris b Exorings

Under the supervision of Professor Matthew Kenworthy, I built an instrument now commissioned in Sutherland, South Africa. This instrument, named bRING, is suited to observe the star β Pictoris during a time when the Hill sphere of β Pictoris b transits in 2017. We hope that we will observe a giant exoring system similar to that of J1407b.

Sept-2015 - Aug-2016

MSc Minor Project - Searching for l-C3H+ in a C3H4 Plasma Using High Resolution Infrared Spectroscopy

Under the supervision of Professor Harold Linnartz. For this project, I used data taken by the Supersonic Plasma InfraRed Absorption Spectrometer (SPIRAS) instrument to search for l-C3H+, a simple molecule that is believe to be a common reactant to form larger hydrocarbons. Though a large number of individual transitions were observed, none could be unambiguously assigned to l-C3H+.

Summers of 2015 and 2016

Teaching Assistant for the Dunlap Summer School for Astronomical Instrumentation

Helped prepare, test, and assist for the Long Wavelength Radio Lab for the Dunlap Summer School. More information on the Dunlap Summer School can be found on the Dunlap page .

May-2015 - September-2015

University of Toronto Undergraduate Research

Under the supervision of Professor Keith Vanderlinde, I attempted to creat anti-reflection lenslets for the SPT-3G instrument. Using a press mould system, I created a triple-layer lenslet out of various epoxy compounds which cut reflection. Unfortunately, the moulds were unable to match the micron-level precision needed for SPT-3G.

May-2014 - May-2015

Bachelor Thesis Project - The First Near Infrared SETI Instrument

Under the supervision of Professor Shelley Wright, I built a Graphical User Interface (GUI) for the first Near-Infrared SETI instrument (NIROSETI) using Matlab. I also built a heat sink for the optical guider camera to disperse heat without affecting the sensitive Avalanche Photo-diodes. I assisted during the commissioning of NIROSETI in March 2015 on the Nickel telescope located at Lick Observatory, California.


PhD - 2017 - Present

Leiden University

HARPS3 and MASCARA Instrumentation and Science with Prof. Ignas Snellen and Dr. Frans Snik.

Master's - 2015 - 2017

Leiden University

Astronomy and Instrumentation. Master's thesis done under the supervision of Professor Matthew Kenworthy.

Honour's Bachelor's - 2011 - 2015

University of Toronto

Specialist Physics and Major in Astronomy. Bachelor's thesis done under the supervision of Professor Shelley Wright


Languages and Software: Python, Matlab, LaTeX, Sprutcam, Solidworks, Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, ActiveX, G-code, PGopher
Operating Systems: Windows and Linux
Machining: CNC milling, Lathe, Drill Press, Band Saw
Electronics: Soldering, Crimping, Cable Routing


  • P. Dorval et al. Star-spot signatures in high-dispersion spectra and the reduction of radial velocity noise: A 40% reduction in RV-jitter for epsilon Eridani. In prep.
  • P. Dorval et al. MASCARA-4 b/bRing-1b - A retrograde hot Jupiter around the bright A3V star HD 85628. In Astronomy & Astrophysics, volume 635, March 2020. Link to paper
  • P. Dorval et al. Analysis of the polarimetric performance of the HARPS3 Cassegrain adaptor unit. In Proc. SPIE 10702, Ground-based and Airborne Instrumentation for Astronomy VII, 107026B, July 2018. Link to paper
  • J.P. Ahlers et al. Gravity-Darkening Analysis of Misaligned Hot Jupiter MASCARA-4 b. In The Astrophysical Journal, volume 888, issue 2, January 2020. Link to paper
  • M. Hjorth et al. MASCARA-3b: A hot Jupiter transiting a bright F7 star in an aligned orbit. In Astronomy & Astrophysics, volume 631, November 2019. Link to paper
  • S.N. Mellon et al. Bright Southern Variable Stars in the bRing Survey. In The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, volume 244, issue 1. September 2019. Link to paper
  • S.N. Mellon et al. Discovery of δ Scuti Pulsations in the Young Hybrid Debris Disk Star HD 156623. In The Astrophysical Journal, volume 870, issue 1, January 2019. Link to paper
  • R. Stuik, et al. bRing: An observatory dedicated to monitoring the β Pictoris b Hill sphere transit. In Astrophysics - Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics, September 2017. Link to paper
  • J. Maire, et al. A near-infrared SETI experiment: commissioning, data analysis, and performance results. In Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) Conference Series, volume 9908, August 2016. Link to paper
  • S.A. Wright, et al. A near-infrared SETI experiment: instrument overview. In Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) Conference Series, volume 9147, July 2014. Link to paper