The Intersection of Astronomy and Data Science

By | 2019-03-07T15:45:27+00:00 March 5th, 2019|Media Coverage|

While most of the ad tech industry was focused on CES in January, the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) was held in Seattle during the same week. The annual AAS winter meeting is the largest professional conference in the US for astronomy, astrophysics, and space sciences and is sometimes referred to as the “Super Bowl of Astronomy”.

Samba TV was represented at AAS by our Senior Enterprise Recruiter, Kim Davis, and two members of our data science team:

  • Dr. Jeffrey Silverman (Director, Data Science) holds a PhD in Astrophysics from University of California, Berkeley where he specialized in observations of exploding stars and dark energy. He was awarded a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship while at the University of Texas at Austin, and has been an author on nearly 160 refereed astronomy publications since 2007.
  • Before joining Samba TV, Dr. Silverman completed the Insight Data Science Fellows Program where he created WhereSIOUS for the City of San Diego, which allows users to discover how successful their new business will be in a given location.


  • Dr. Joshua Miller (Director, Data Analytics) holds a PhD in Astrophysics from West Virginia University, where he advanced the understanding of a type of neutron star known as Rotating Radio Transients (RRATs). Through his multi-wavelength observations and research, he shined a light on the underlying RRAT emission mechanism and in the process became a global expert in single-pulse pulsar analysis and flux density calibrations.
  • Dr. Miller also completed the Insight Data Science Fellows Program, where he built a Python-based web application that generates personalized recommendations for what activities to try next based on a user’s recent tweets.

ATDS: Day One

In addition to participating in the Astronomy field’s largest annual event, Samba’s representatives co-organized a two-day breakout meeting along with data scientists from Slack and Square entitled Astronomers Turned Data Scientists (ATDS).

The ATDS meeting was inspired by the desire to create a more cohesive community among astronomers and data scientists, and to highlight areas where the disciplines overlap.

The first day assembled roughly 90 attendees and focused on a series of talks delivered by data scientists across various industries. A wide variety of topics included: blockchain, quantitative finance, product analysis, image surveying, and natural language processing – among others. The talks were moderated in part by event co-organizer Dr. Silverman.


Dr. Miller delivered a talk entitled Creating Synthetic Control Groups to Understand Incremental Lift from TV Commercials. Using control groups in digital advertising measurement has been standard practice for years, but creating them for TV audiences has historically been a significant and unsolved challenge.

In his presentation, Dr. Miller showed how Samba is developing control groups for TV audiences based on viewership data to isolate groups that were likely to have viewed a commercial, but did not. Comparing the exposed group’s conversion rate to the conversion rate of this control group then reveals a measurable, attributable lift.

Day one wrapped with an event hosted at Twitter’s Seattle office featuring additional content from former astronomers now working at Twitter as data scientists, and a lengthy Q/A session.

ATDS: Day Two

The second day was centered around a Career Networking and Job Fair, where Samba TV had a booth in the main exhibit hall along with other data-focused companies such as Twitter, Schireson, Aisera, Chicago Trading Company, and Descartes Lab. Samba’s representatives spent the afternoon fielding questions about the company, and how we apply data science to our technology and products.

Undergrads, PhD candidates, postdocs and working Astronomers were able to leverage the expertise and experience of Samba TV’s data scientists to explore options related to making a transition into technology. Samba TV’s booth drew steady traffic throughout the day and signed-up more than thirty potential candidates for open data science positions at Samba TV.

During the afternoon the AAS Employment Committee, in partnership with the American Institute of Physics, hosted a panel discussion on transitioning from Astronomy into a career in data science/technology.

Later in the evening Dr. Silverman participated in a panel on Data Ethics at the Insight Data Science Seattle office. This topic is especially relevant to Samba TV, where consumer privacy and data security are deeply ingrained in every aspect of the company.

Hopefully the ATDS meetings and engagement will continue to grow at next winter’s AAS conference, and Samba TV will have a larger presence to help Astronomers explore a potential transition into data science.

Samba TV is hiring data scientists!

Be sure to check out our careers page.


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