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Benjamin Stone taking a break in the middle of helping unload ICRAR equipment during his work experience.

Benjamin Stone taking a break in the middle of helping unload ICRAR equipment during his work experience.

Day 1: 20/10/2014

On day one I arrived at ICRAR’s building in Curtin and was given a tour of the building by Tom, a PhD Student, and I was introduced to many of the other students and staff working at ICRAR. At 9:30 am Tom and I were able to sit down and have a discussion about the workings of Black holes, and the research he was doing on the connection between inflow and outflow of accreting stellar mass black holes, and the fast radio bursts emitted from them.

At 10:00 am I was introduced to Andrew Williams, who is a control engineer for ICRAR and makes sure the equipment in the Murchison Widefield Array site can process information in perfect synchronisation properly. He gave me a complete run down on the workings of many of the computing systems and computer hardware used at the MWA.

After lunch, at 1:00 pm, Tom and I had more discussions about black holes and other interesting theories whilst we ate delicious caramel slices. I was introduced to another PhD Student in the building named Samuel, who gave me a rundown on the transition between neutron stars and black holes, and his research; pulsars, an extremely interesting and exotic astrophysical phenomenon.

I learnt a lot even on the first day! And when you’re passionate about physics, talking to people who enjoy it just as much as you is a great experience and a really good environment to explore new ideas and concepts you may not have heard of before. My first day at ICRAR was great!

Day 2; 21/10/2014

On day 2 I arrived at UWA, where I got a tour of the ICRAR-UWA building by Kirsten Gottschalk, who very kindly organised the week for me and allowed me the opportunity to take part in work experience with ICRAR. I was then introduced to Kevin Vinsen, who gave me a presentation about the SKA, and the sheer amount of ambition and vision put into the project, informing me of the extreme computer hardware required in order to process the incredible amount of incoming data from the telescopes; and also the problems faced by the scope of the project.

Then, whilst eating lunch with some of the staff in the building, some took turns to present interesting research in areas that could indirectly assist in astrophysics.

After lunch, I was tasked with assembling a large number of student packages for an event, which took up almost the rest of my day.

Day 3; 22/10/2014

I began day three at ICRAR at the ground floor talking to Alex Beckley, who is in charge of some of the computing with theSkyNet and gave me a rundown on how some of the processing is done through offloading some of the data on to computers worldwide; and then making incredibly high definition images through hours of pixel processing.

At 11:00 am I attended the AMT, the Astronomy Morning Tea, where Dr Luke Davies presented information about modern achievements in science, and also some of his own research.

After lunch I was allowed the opportunity to speak to Luke about red shifting and other astrophysical phenomenon. He got me to find some redshift coefficients from various amounts of graphical data from galaxies, we then graphed this data and formed a three dimensional plot of right ascension, declination, and also distance from the redshift coefficients, showing the incredible scale and size of the universe.  We then had an awesome talk about other areas of science, interesting areas of research, and the many unanswered questions of astrophysics and quantum mechanics.

My third day at ICRAR was really good, I really valued the amount of discussion time I had with some of the staff and I learnt a lot.

Day 4; 23/10/2014

My fourth day at ICRAR took place at Curtin again in the Brodie Hall building, and really had an emphasis on talking to researchers and other PhD students. I arrived at 10 am and began by having a chat with Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker, who talked with me about the work she does as a radio astronomer and how she managed to get to her position as a researcher at ICRAR. We then attended the Radio Galaxy Morning Tea, where we ate Tim tams and I got to listen in on the discussion.

Then at 1 pm I had the opportunity to talk to researcher and professor Dr James Miller-Jones, who spoke to me about his current research and the various processes that go into detecting and analysing black holes, pulsars and quasars, and exactly how they form. Along side the complexity of the physics inside white dwarfs. I received an incredible amount of knowledge from James, and it has really motivated my interest in astrophysics even further.

Then at 2:30 pm, I spoke to Dr Hayley Bignall, who taught me about VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) and how various telescopes are placed around the globe in order to maximise the clarity of images and also how mathematics is used to eliminate noise from those images and data.

Day 5; 24/10/2014

My final day at ICRAR was in short, awesome. I arrived at 10:00 am at UWA and began the day with a talk with Dr Chris Power, a professor who works on cosmology and mathematical models of the grand scale of galactic motion. We had a great conversation about the mathematics involved in theoretical physics, and great ways to get into studying the mathematics and physics early. He also helped me with some questions I had about the derivations of Kepler’s laws and how he expressed them mathematically. It was an extremely good discussion for me as theoretical astrophysics and comparing theoretical and simulated models to observations is one of the areas of astrophysics I am most interested in.

Halfway through my chat with Chris Power we went to Morning Tea, where I was introduced to all the ICRAR staff whilst they shared significant news. The people working at ICRAR are a great bunch. Plus there was chocolate cake!

After Morning Tea, Chris and I returned to his office where I accompanied him to a research discussion with two of his colleagues. I was then introduced to Dr Dan Obreschkow, who does similar work to Chris except with a greater emphasis on the theoretical modelling and ‘pen and paper’ work. We had a great conversation about international opportunities in astrophysics and about how he got to working with ICRAR.

After lunch at around 1:30 pm I had a research session with Martin Meyer, who does neutral hydrogen surveys and researches galaxy formation and evolution. We had a discussion about the various errors in calculations and relationships that can affect final data, and the assumptions that go into a lot of the observational work in astrophysics. We also discussed how the velocities of a galaxy’s arms could be used to determine the mass of a galaxy.

And that concludes my week at ICRAR, it was honestly a really incredible experience and I’m so glad I was given the opportunity to talk with some leading researchers and pioneers in astrophysics. I think if you’re interested in physics, and have hopes to one day take part in research perhaps in the field of astronomy, you should definitely reach out to ICRAR, you won’t be disappointed.