Dr Huynh is the Deputy International SKA Project Scientist. Working with the Project Scientist, Joe Lazio, and astronomers around the world, her job is to ensure that the goals of astronomers are met by the technical design of the SKA. The science case of the SKA undergoes continual refinement and updating to derive more specific technical requirements for the engineers. Dr Huynh is essentially the interface between astronomers and engineers for the SKA project, and so spends a fair chunk of her time in Manchester, where the SKA Project Development Office is currently located. Over the next few years the SKA will move towards the pre-construction phase and so it becomes more crucial than ever that the aspirations of the astronomy community are balanced with the engineering design and cost of the telescope. Dr Huynh is also a cheerleader for the SKA, conducting professional outreach, which means giving seminars about the SKA and keeping astronomers up to date with the SKA project.
I am currently working on analysis of 6cm data taken in Jan 2010 on the Australia Telescope Compact Array in Narrabri, NSW. This telescope was upgraded in 2009 with a new correlator that increased the bandwidth 16 times, from 128 MHz to 2 GHz. This allowed deep continuum surveys to be done much faster than before. My project involves making a deep 6cm image over a 30 by 30 arcmin region in the extended Chandra Deep Field South, an area of sky well studied by telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
Our goal is to identify Active Galactic Nuclei, distant super-massive black holes, at radio wavelengths with the sensitive and high resolution 6cm imaging and study their properties, including statistics (source counts) and spectral index (how their brightness changes with frequency).
I think the SKA will make some very important discoveries in the near future.
Firstly, it will probe into the dark ages when the universe was predominately neutral hydrogen and detect the growing bubbles of ionized plasma surrounding the first energetic sources. Optical and infrared telescopes can not do this because light from those wavelengths are absorbed by the neutral hydrogen gas in the distant universe. It is only when the stars and quasars become numerous enough and ionized enough gas that we see the universe as it is today. The SKA will be the first instrument with enough sensitivity to image the fluctuations in temperature of the neutral hydrogen gas caused by the earliest stars and quasars.
Secondly, pulsar surveys and pulsar timing with the SKA enables several tests of gravity. The SKA expects to find tens to up to a hundred binary pulsars to test strong field theories of gravity, and test whether Einstein was right. By timing many pulsars along many lines of sight, the SKA can also directly detect gravitational waves because the waves, as they travel through the Milky Way, induce small changes in the time of arrival of pulses from the pulsars. It's interesting to note that two Nobel prizes have been given for pulsar astronomy, in 1974 and 1993. I think it's very likely that the first direct detection of a gravitational wave will be Nobel Prize winning work.
My work is important for ICRAR as it was created as a international radio research centre with development of the SKA in mind. ICRAR is making many contributions to the SKA project, and its pathfinders such as MWA and ASKAP. My role as Deputy International SKA Project Scientist is just one of ICRAR's many contributions to ensuring the success of the SKA.
I joined ICRAR because it was growing rapidly with many leading researchers in radio astronomy. I have been interested in the SKA project for years and the chance to play a key role in its development was just very attractive.
I worked at the California Institute of Technology before coming to ICRAR. I started there as a post-doctoral researcher, studying distant galaxies with deep infrared imaging from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. I then moved on to the Planck team at Caltech. Planck is a European Space Agency sattelite designed to study the Cosmic Microwave Background to unprecedented resolution and over a larger frequency coverage than ever done before. Our team at Caltech produced the Planck early release source catalogue of compact sources, which consisted of objects both in and outside our Milky Way.
There are so many things I like about my work. I think it's great that we are payed to do something as fun as studying the universe. I like that I am challenged every day and work with really smart colleagues. Travelling to new places for meetings, conferences and observing is also wonderful.