Team Biographies

Michael McElwain
observatory project scientist

Michael McElwain is the James Webb Space Telescope's Observatory Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, a position he has held since 2016. As the NASA observatory project scientist for Webb or JWST, McElwain ensures the observatory science performance is optimized. This requires detailed evaluations of the observatory systems and monitoring changes. He uses JWST to study exoplanets and circumstellar disks with direct imaging.

From the start, he was always curious about how things work, and was inspired by our place in space. In college he studied astrophysics and physics at the University of Pennsylvania, while also playing on the soccer team for the Quakers. During graduate school at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), he was a lead graduate student on the Keck OSIRIS integral field spectrograph team. As a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, McElwain was a lead scientist on the Subaru Telescope's SEEDS (Strategic Exploration of Exoplanets and Disks with Subaru) survey that discovered two new exoplanets with direct imaging. He carried out the initial design for the high contrast integral field spectrograph called CHARIS for the Subaru Telescope. At NASA Goddard, he was the principal investigator for a prototype integral field spectrograph within the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope’s Coronagraph Instrument. McElwain was an instrument scientist for the NEID radial velocity instrument, NASA’s premier extreme precision doppler spectrograph located at the WIYN telescope.

Working on Webb, McElwain is inspired by the discovery capabilities of new missions, particularly in exoplanets. "We've learned so much about exoplanets over the past 20 years, and it's clear that missions like Webb enable observations that provide insights to planet formation, evolution, and atmospheres," said McElwain. McElwain enjoys working with teams of scientists and engineers to refine and elevate this transformative observatory.

In his free time, McElwain enjoys adventures with his wife and two daughters. McElwain led expeditions to experience the North American total solar eclipses in 2017 and 2024. He is an avid runner and recently competed in a DC half marathon. McElwain has taken up boating along nearby creeks and the Potomac River, in the Northern Neck of Virginia.