Dr. Oppenheimer is a comparative exoplanetary scientist: she studies planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. This nascent field is so young that much of the work involves developing the techniques needed to see these planets, so that their light can be dissected and analyzed. Her optics laboratory in the Rose Center is the birthplace of a number of new astronomical instruments designed to tackle this problem. In March 2004, Dr. Oppenheimer deployed the world's most sensitive coronagraph at the AEOS Telescope in Maui. In June 2008, her team deployed an even more precise and sensitive exoplanet imaging system at the Palomar Observatory. This instrument is called Project 1640 and involves researchers at AMNH, Cambridge, Caltech, and NASA/JPL. All of these instrumentation efforts, as well as several others including the starlight suppression system for the International Gemini Observatory Planet Imager project (GPI), were conducted in Oppenheimer's lab in the Rose Center at AMNH.
Dr. Oppenheimer also works on faint white dwarfs, the remnants of normal stars, and brown dwarfs, star-like objects that are too small to be stars but too large to be called planets. She is the co-discoverer of the first brown dwarf, called Gliese 229B, and was the first scientist to study the atmospheric composition, chemistry and physics of a sub-stellar object outside our solar system.
Dr. Oppenheimer has served on numerous national and international committees related to astronomical research, physics and the state of astrophysics. Most recently she chaired NASA's Senior Review and published an OpEd in the Los Angeles Times about it ( link ). She was part of the National Academies, National Research Council Decadal Survey of Astrophysics (Astro2010), providing analysis and assisting with prioritization of the next ten years of space-based astronomical missions. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Astronomy at Columbia University, where she has taught graduate and undergraduate courses. She has published over 150 research papers and articles for the general public, co-curated the space show Journey to the Stars and curated the exhibit Searching for New Worlds.
Oppenheimer's education related efforts include curation of the AstroBulletin series of news items and bi-annual documentaries distributed to over 40 other museums and science centers around the world. She is also Curator-in-Charge of the Digital Universe Atlas.
Dr. Oppenheimer is a transgender woman who published under the name Ben R. or B. R. Oppenheimer prior to July 2014.