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“I do surveys of thousands of galaxies to try and understand their properties from a statistical point of view”

Dr Catinella’s main research aims to understand the role of gas in galaxies, by doing surveys both with large single-dish radio telescopes and interferometers like ASKAP, and by comparing her observations to theoretical predictions. Dr Catinella uses one of the biggest single dish telescopes in the world – Arecibo Observatory in USA – to measure the total amount of gas in galaxies and to investigate how it cycles in and out of galaxies.

“Observations of gas in galaxies are lagging a bit behind other wavelengths [of astronomy]. We’ve measured the optical properties for many millions of galaxies in the nearby Universe. Same in the infrared, same in the ultraviolet. In the gas we’re much behind, so we have maps for a few hundreds of galaxies and global measurements for about 50,000.”

Dr Catinella says that in the near future ASKAP will bring the numbers from just hundreds of gas maps to many thousands, as well as measuring the gas for half a million galaxies. And the SKA will go much beyond that.

“I’m here [at ICRAR] because I’m interested in using the WALLABY and DINGO surveys, they will bring us to the next level for what neutral hydrogen astronomy is concerned.”

Dr Catinella recently published a paper which is the culmination of almost a decade of work, which she started as a postdoc in Germany. The first paper of her survey has become her most cited paper and is a benchmark dataset that other astronomers around the world are using in their simulations or to compare with other gas observations. (Barbara Catinella et al; xGASS: total cold gas scaling relations and molecular-to-atomic gas ratios of galaxies in the local Universe).

Amongst meetings, data analysis, and conferences, Dr Catinella also supervises postgraduate students and postdocs.

“My students learn lots of skills and work with state-of-the-art data sets, which is important I think for their careers. Many of the skills that they learn are very useful even if they don’t stay in academia.”

“It’s exciting and we do lots of interesting work [working with students] but of course I love to do my own research every now and then when I manage to find time!”

Read more about Dr Barbara Catinella