I first heard of ICRAR (International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research) from events such as Astrofest, attending UWA and Curtin open days, and attending lectures at Perth City Library by Professor Danail Obreschkow. I applied for the work experience program and had an over-the-phone interview. I was very nervous when starting the program as I was unsure what to expect. After having done the week, I have learnt so much about the amazing and interesting work that goes on at ICRAR. I was very fortunate to receive this opportunity and I thank all the research and ICRAR employees for setting aside time to speak to us.
Day 1: Curtin
- We were first introduced to our guide Kat Ross a PhD student who is studying radio galaxies. She gave us a tour around the building introducing us to some researchers.
- Our first session was with Sam McSweeney who explained pulsars, neutron stars and gravitational waves. He explained that a pulsar is a fast-spinning neutron star that emits high energy jets that can be detected using a radio telescope. He showed us how to calculate the maximum size of the pulsar using the period the burst of high energy waves are detected with the telescope. Then using this with some basic circle algebra (2*pi*r) and the constant the speed of light we found the maximum size that the pulsar can be.
- We then had a session with Maria who explained electromagnetic waves and how the MWA (Murchison Widefield Array) is designed to detect them.
- Then we sat in on a meeting where the research student discussed their progress in the past week presenting tables and graphs of data collected from the MWA and discussed what it all meant.
- After lunch, our next session was with Kat Ross who taught us the basics of coding with python with a fun tutorial involving battling Pokémon. This was very useful as I had been planning to learn to code for some time.
- In our last session we visited ICRAR project manager Mia Walker who talked about her work with the MWA telescoped and how they function. We visited an office where they repair broken components that may have short circuited out in the desert due to the slightly acidic sand.
Day 2: UWA
- Upon arriving at UWA we met Gregory Rowbotham a science outreach communicator and head of the work experience program.
- After having a tour of the building, we went to our first session with Kevin Vinsen who talked about ICRAR, MWA, SKA and the crazy amount of data, power and cost the SKA will have. The SKA will bring in roughly 1 terabyte of data per second and the supercomputer which will store the data will consume more power than 3 Perth city blocks of power for the cooling system alone.
- We then watched a quick video on the big bang and rapid expansion of space and Greg then answered any questions we had on the topic. He explained what was meant by the shape of the universe and how this can be determined using laser beams. We discussed general relativity and gravitational waves.
- We then visited a research student doing his PhD on galaxies collisions. He showed us some images of galaxies and talked about an Artificial Intelligence they were developing to analyse the images received by the telescope.
- Our next session was with Professor Peter Quinn the executive director of ICRAR who discussed his career and gave some very useful information on university pathways, the process of getting a PhD and what the life of research students involves.
- The final session was with Adam Stevens who is developing simulations of galaxies, galaxy formations and galaxy collisions. These simulations are made in python and are run inside a supercomputer which we would learn more about on the next day.
Day 3: Pawsey Supercomputer Centre
- We arrived at UWA and took an Uber to the Pawsey Supercomputer Centre which is where we would be spending the day
- We met tour guide Ann Backhaus who showed us the supercomputer and explained a new one is being built for the data the SKA will collect
- We then went into a meeting room where we had the ‘mind-blowing’ topic of quantum physics explained to us, including Quantum entanglement, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, the double slit experiment, the observer effect, and quantum computing.
- We then had a tour of the grand CSIRO ARRC building whilst discussing school and university courses
- When we arrived back to Pawsey we met Benjamin Arntzen who demonstrated the supercomputer on a smaller scale using Raspberry Pis simulating a ball moving through fluid.
- We then sat in on a meeting about social media where Twitter and LindkedIn were discussed
- Then we had quantum computing explained in more detail by Maciej Cytowski an expert in computer science and Mark Grey head of data management
- We then caught an Uber back to UWA
Day 4: Curtin
- After arriving at Curtin and discussing with Kat how the work experience was going, we went to Teresa Slaven-Blair a science communicator who explained the on the importance of science communication and outreach. She showed us some ideas for future activities at schools and events like Astrofest.
- We then visited Dev who was a computer programmer. He showed us his LED lights project he had made in his spare time during lockdown.
- We spoke to Ferry Lanter about the way the MWA is calibrated to account for the distortion of the light due to the atmosphere.
- Susmita Sett a PhD talked about her work with analysing data from the MWA to finding pulsars. She explained that her work requires knowledge of how to program as this is an essential skill to have. About every computer screen I had walked past that day had some tab of programming open.
- After a lunch break, we visited Arash Bahramian a PhD research who is studying black holes and neutron stars. He showed us a table of data on collected by the MWA on a star’s brightness that fades then brightens over a period of time. He imported the data into a table then graphed it. He then used the sin wave function and modified it to fit with the data creating a model. This was really interesting as I had just finished learning about trigonometric functions in school.
- The next session was with theoretical astrophysicist Mawson Sammons who discussed gravitational lensing (gravity bending light) and how this effects light from the universe.
- Our last session of the day was with Adelle who was researching black holes, neutron stars and accretion disks
Day 5: UWA
- After arriving at the ICRAR building and sharing with Greg our highlights of the previous day, we met Ms Omima Osman Mohammed Osman who was a research student focusing on cosmic dust and how it influences the light we receive from the universe and how the dust can act as a catalyst in the formulation of stars. She then talked about what being an astronomer involves such as lots of programming and writing reports on discoveries you have made.
- We next had morning tea where all the research and students at ICRAR meet and discuss their research and progress.
- Then Greg and Kat took us inside the SPIRIT telescopes. These are internet accessible free to use telescopes and explained how they work
- We then met David Gozzard a post doctorate researcher who showed us his work involving lasers and developing ways to make them more precise for future projects such as the SKA and even experiments that will test Einstein’s theory of relativity with more accuracy than ever before.
- Jennifer Hardwick PhD student talked to us on rotating galaxies and measuring them using redshift and also gave some useful information on university pathways. We then sat in on a student meeting where they discussed and shared the data, they had gathered
- Our next session was with Professor Chris Power who is interested in dark matter and the way it is involved with galaxies. He showed us how to calculate the mass of the galaxy using Newton’s and Einstein’s equations and finding the galaxy has more mass than is visible hence the presence of dark matter.
- We next met Professor Andreas Wicenec who is one of the lead researchers at ICRAR. He talked to us about radio waves and what happened when they pass through the atmosphere.
- We unfortunately missed out on the last session of the day due to the covid lockdown restrictions announced we had to return home.
- Before we left, we discussed with Greg and Cass what we had learned and gained from the work experience program. Anyone who is interested astronomy, astrophysics or just physics overall I definitely recommend you should apply for this program. You will learn so much about astronomy, astrophysics and what the day-to-day life of astronomers involve. The time they put aside from their work to talk to us about their research shows their interest to get others involved. This program is a once in a life opportunity and one of the most interesting things I have ever done.