Many stars, including the Sun, are surrounded by dust grains in disks, usually produced by collisions between asteroids and other larger bodies orbiting the stars. The orbits of these dust grains can then be shaped by gravitational interactions with planets in the system. Because the disks are much easier to observe than planets in these systems, they can provide clues to the presence of the otherwise unseen planets.
Wilkins and her collaborators are working to make very sophisticated models of such disks to learn what the disks would look like so that we can design telescopes to directly image planets in such systems. The image at left shows what our solar system might look like to astronomers on a distant planet, as produced by such a model. Wilkins is also helping to build the instruments that could directly image an Earth-like planet in a distant solar system.