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From law breakers to law makers, suffragists to unionists, bronc riders to ball players, Bold Women of Montana celebrates Women’s History Month in our state! Learn more about 23 bold women of Montana. Listen every weekday in March at 8:42 a.m. and 2:04 p.m., and find the latest episodes here.

Bold Women: Chani Nava scans the galaxy for extra-terrestrial life

 Dr. Chantanelle Nava of Billings talks advanced astronomy at Harvard University, 2022.
Dr. Chantanelle Nava of Billings talks advanced astronomy at Harvard University, 2022.

Dr. Chantanelle Nava searches the galaxy for exoplanets, rocky planets like ours that could host life. She uses the colors and movements of light as clues to find and measure planets.

Chani studied Astrophysics at the University of Montana and got a PhD in 2022 from Harvard. Born in 1991, she’s from Billings. Her paternal great-grandparents moved there around 1933 from Chihuahua, Mexico. Chani’s dad was a hydraulic-cylinder mechanic, her mom, a waitress who became a nurse after her parents divorced. So Chani grew up between southside Billings, where her dad’s family is, and her maternal grandparents’ farm north of Billings. “Bottle-feeding baby cows and going to my dad’s house and having like big fiestas but then also like drive-by shootings…” That made Chani adaptable, a quality she’s proud of.

A math-lover, she discovered physics in college, then astronomy. So, why exoplanets? Not for Plan B. “We were born to live here….I think a big part of it is just expansion of our understanding of the galaxy and the universe, just for the sake of expanding that knowledge.”

But with large families on both sides and six siblings, Chani Nava values human warmth as well as cold space. Returning to UM in 2023 to teach, she’ll use her research to inspire students the way she was inspired to look up and out into the stars.

This audio podcast contains an error corrected here in the text. Chani Nava was born in 1991, not 1992.

Beth Judy is the author of Bold Women in Montana History and a limited audio series based on the book. She previously hosted and produced The Plant Detective, a locally produced and nationally syndicated program.
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