MONDAY – CURTIN
This year, there were 5 of us from different schools across WA, starting the week of work experience at Curtin.
We began with a tour around campus, and afterwards, Kathryn and Ronniy, our supervisors at Curtin, talked to us about ICRAR’s work and Kathryn’s PhD research. Afterwards, we split into two groups and spent some time talking with Brendan, a PhD student, on his research into using radar to map space debris. Before lunch, we sat in on a talk on methods of measuring movement in pulsars (a specific type of neutron star which shoots radiation out at opposite ends), which mostly flew over my head.
After lunch we sat in on Standard Error – a meeting between some of ICRAR’s programmers to discuss tips and tricks. We then split back into groups, and we were able to talk to another researcher on stars and black holes. We then took a half hour break with Ronniy and Kat and ended the day by talking to Nick about pulsars – my favourite part of the day.
TUESDAY – UWA
On Tuesday, we spent our first day at UWA. After meeting Greg, our supervisor, and a tour, we watched an introductory video to cosmology, and then talked to another student, Jess, about her pathway to ICRAR. Afterwards, we sat in on Journal Club, where researchers got together to discuss interesting journal articles they’d read over the week. After lunch, we talked to another researcher – Kevin – on the Square Kilometre Array, and were amazed at some of the numbers on how much data would be involved in the telescope. The final part of the day was to talk to another student about their experiences at ICRAR and their work.
WEDNESDAY – UWA
We were at UWA again on Wednesday, and started the day by talking to Lister Staveley-Smith on finding galaxies with the ASKAP telescope. Then, we went to see Simon Driver, who talked to us about galaxy mapping software, and how advancements in technology were allowing them to more efficiently identify galaxy clusters. Before lunch, we sat in on Astro Morning Tea, where one of the researchers explained their most recent paper.
After lunch, we sat down with Elizabete Da Cunha, who we talked to about dusty stars, the ALMA telescope and how she came to work at ICRAR. We then talked to Brent Groves on understanding star formation through the PHANGS project, and Sabine on the use of the GAMA survey to find out how galaxies evolve into different shapes.
THURSDAY – CURTIN
On Thursday, we were back at Curtin, and began our day talking to honours students about their degrees, study recommendations and their plans for the future. We then had an amazing talk from Mia Walker, who told us about the software and hardware involved in the Murchison Widefield Array, as well as giving us a tour of the engineering side of ICRAR. Afterwards, we split back into groups, and we went to talk to Elliot, a masters student, who explained to us how radiovariability works – a concept I found pretty hard to grasp. We then talked to Jess Broderick on his work with galaxies and radio transients, as well as his experience travelling to do astronomy.
After an hour’s lunch break, we had our first task, to use data from the SKA precursor to find satellites in its observations and matching the observations to particular satellites. This was one of my favourite parts of the day, and it’s cool to know that something I’ve done at ICRAR can be used in some of their research! We ended the day talking to our supervisor Ronniy about his work – in particular, my favourite part on how massive black holes shouldn’t exist.
FRIDAY – UWA
Friday was our last day, and we spent it at UWA. We began with a visit to the SPIRIT Optical Telescopes in the UWA physics department and learnt about how they work and map the sky – it was particularly interesting that they can be used by school groups and can do things like weighing planets! After a break for morning tea, we talked to Luca Cortese on how to visually represent data on galaxy brightness, and how some methods can allow researchers to make inferences about the makeup of the galaxy! Next, we went to sit in on plot of the week, where students gathered to practice their presentation skills by explaining their graphs. We got to ask lots of questions, which I enjoyed a lot, and even got to vote on our favourite plot!
We then had a lunch break, and afterwards, talked to Adam Stevens on galaxy simulations. We got to see some really cool videos of the simulations, and even speculated a bit about the existence of black holes. The last thing we did was to talk to another researcher, who explained the different things that dark matter might be. He explained that soon, we might be able to actually observe it!
My week at ICRAR was a great one, and I learnt so much, both about astronomy in general, and ICRAR in particular! I really enjoyed talking to the researchers and we got a plethora of knowledge about the broad range of work ICRAR does, which I will definitely use when I (hopefully) go into astronomy! While I definitely liked some bits more than others, my overall experience was that it was a fantastic experience, and I’d really recommend it to anyone who thinks they’d like to go into astro!