My work experience with ICRAR took place from the 15th-18th April 2019 and involved me spending two days at ICRAR Curtin and two days at ICRAR UWA. I found that at Curtin, most of the astronomers work on either the Epoch of Reionisation or on active galactic nuclei (AGN), whereas at UWA they place more of a focus on cosmology and by having my time distributed equally at each location, I got a great insight into all of these areas. My week of work experience was truly amazing! I learnt so much from so many great researchers and students and was sad when it came to an end. I already loved astronomy prior to my work experience; however what I learnt at ICRAR has given me a truly unique insight into the life of an astronomer more than I could ever have known without this opportunity.
Day 1 Monday CURTIN
My first day of work experience with ICRAR took Place at the ICRAR Curtin location. When I arrived I met Ronniy Joseph who was my work experience supervisor while at Curtin and who works on the EOR. Ronniy gave me and the other work experience students a presentation about ICRAR and information about astronomy that would be useful to know for our week ahead. Throughout the day I got to speak to many ICRAR staff including Mia Walker, who is a Project Officer for the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), and research fellow Dr Clancy James who is an Astro-Partical Physicist, he talked to us about neutrinos and also explained how quantum mechanics is incompatible with relativity. I also got to meet Research Fellow Dr Nipanjana Patra, who is an Engineer, working on low frequency telescopes, a PhD student named Ben who works on AGN and Dr Arash Bahramian, who differed from most ICRAR staff a he focuses on x-rays, rather than radio waves. I was also incredibly lucky that the timing of my work experience took place just days after the first ever black hole image was released so there was lots and lots of talk about it, including in a journal club we attended, in which we got to watch a presentation from a staff member of ICRAR discussing the black hole image which was really interesting.
Day 2 Tuesday UWA
My 2nd day of work experience with ICRAR was at the UWA location. I arrived and met Greg Rowbotham, our work experience coordinator whilst at UWA. Greg showed us a video called “Cosmology 101” in which Dr Alan Duffy described the principles of cosmology. The video talked about how our universe is expanding, the shape of the universe and about dark matter and dark energy, which together make up 96% of the universe. Following this video Greg answered questions we had from the video and explained the way that we know the universe is flat in shape. On our second day, we got to learn how to weigh a galaxy using its velocity, radius and a gravitational constant and learnt that the mass was far greater than the combined mass of the stars within it, one of the many things giving evidence for dark matter. The rest of the day was spent speaking to PhD students. We got to meet Sofia and Garima who both do simulations of the universe. Sofia is looking at galactic dynamics to learn about the universe and know more about dark matter and Garima studies hydrogen through her simulations. Before this I had only met observational astronomers so I found learning about simulations really interesting. We then spoke to second year PhD student Nathan who told us about very high redshift galaxies and about how he came to work at ICRAR, as he is originally from England.
Day 3 Wednesday Curtin
Wednesday was my third day of work experience with ICRAR. Throughout the day I got a great insight into the work of an astronomer and got to speak to many researchers and students at ICRAR about what they do day to day. At the start of the day, I met Christina who is one of the astronomers at ICRAR working on the EOR and wanting to detect EOR emission, and in order to do this must remove points of light from radio images as emission from the EOR will be very faint. Ronniy who is also a part of the ICRAR group working on EOR told me about how the MWA is being used to detect signals of neutral hydrogen from the EOR. Cass, a student from the AGN group of ICRAR explained to us how she can tell how many sources are in a particular image and put them into a table. Later I met a PhD student named Brendan who works in defence, using the MWA to track objects in orbit around Earth. Another PhD student who I got to meet was named Stefan, who works on merging galaxy clusters and explained how he uses telescopes such as the MWA to detect emission from such events. We then had lunch outside with many of the PhD students we had spoken to throughout the week. After lunch we did an activity with Pikky where we looked at the movement of two different sources from radio images from different times to see if they moved and if so, how far they moved. From this we were able to calculate a velocity at which the source was moving.
Day 4 UWA
My fourth day of work experience began with us talking to Tristan, a 3rd year PhD student who studies how hydrogen gas in galaxies is affected by the environment, for example the way hydrogen gas is distributed in asymmetrical galaxies. I then attended an Easter morning tea with all ICRAR UWA staff, I had no idea how many people worked there until then! Throughout the day we got speak to more PhD students about what they do at ICRAR. One of the PhD students I met was named Ahmed, who explained that when a smaller galaxy plunges through a larger one, what is known as a collision ring galaxy is formed. He told us that there are only about 150 of these galaxies known in our local universe. I found speaking to Ahmed extremely interesting because I had never heard of collision ring galaxies until then, and they are definitely something I would like to know more about. Other PhD students who we spoke to were Omima, who looks at galaxy formation and the evolution simulations, and Ryan who works in data intensive astronomy and explained to us the incredible amounts of data that will collected by the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). He said that soon after the SKA is built and fully functional, the data it has collected will exceed the entire internet and therefore, they must find ways in which these huge amounts data can be effectively stored. One of my favourite parts of my fourth and final day of work experience was going across the road to the UWA physics department to see the SPIRIT optical telescopes which are on the roof, and can actually be accessed by students!