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Dillon Brown from Clare High School in South Australia.

Dillon Brown from Clare High School in South Australia.

Monday September 10th, 2012

My desk for the week.

My desk for the week.

Today I began my first day of work experience at ICRAR thanks to the ICRAR work experience program and also Kirsten Gottschalk who organised an entire week for me. I started the day a little nervous and uneasy about what to expect, but it was not long before I was introduced to many of the kind people at ICRAR who work in many different fields such as astronomy, ICT and engineering.

The purpose behind my eagerness to attend a work experience program with ICRAR stems from my interest in astronomy and astrophysics. After a short research session at my desk with an awesome mac computer, I was given a schedule for the remainder of the week and also a variety of different information to help me understand ICRAR and also the SKA (Square Kilometre Array), which will be built in South Africa, Australia and also New Zealand. The Square Kilometre Array is a major part of ICRAR’s research and it is basically a collection of 3000 radio dishes which will form one telescope to peer into the outer reaches of the universe. I found the Square Kilometre Array to be a truly amazing prospect because of its size, technology and also what it hopes to discover.

My independent research was followed by a research session with Professor Chen Wu who works in the ICRAR ICT section and is involved with the collection of data from radio telescopes. I found Chen’s work to be interesting and extremely important, complicated and thorough. I was told about the processes behind collecting data from radio telescopes and was stunned by the fact that there is so much detail and precision involved.

Soon after the research session with Chen Wu I was invited to lunch with Kirsten because I had forgot to pack lunch of my own! We went to Chilliz which I have never heard of before and then headed over to the UWA campus. I must admit, the super amazing sauce that came with my meal was pretty awesome! After lunch I was lucky enough to attend a research session with Danail Obreschkow who taught me about his studies with the evolution of galaxies, dark matter and energy, and also supernovae. This was a great session and I was grateful that not only we could talk about his research but also some broader topics, like astronomy in general and also the future. At first I was amazed by his research and had an understanding of what he was talking about, but when we ventured into the more complicated topic of the inclination of galaxies I was stunned by the complexity.

My first day was more than I had ever expected and I am grateful that I was given a chance to spend time with researchers who were great people who offered their time to teach. The atmosphere at ICRAR is very casual and relaxed and everyone are kind and helpful. Thanks for reading the first day!

Tuesday, September 11th 2012

To begin my second day, I felt more comfortable with my surroundings and what I had to do. I began with an independent research session in the morning, where I was able to finish a task that Kirsten gave me, involving fixed celestial objects such as star clusters and then figuring out their constellation. I was amazed with the software I was able to use, which included starry night pro plus, an in-depth planetarium program.

After my independent research I headed over to the second floor of the ICRAR building and met Attila Popping who gave me an insight into what he studies. I found his studies of galaxy rotation, radio wavelength, galaxy mass and dark matter really interesting. I learnt that different parts of a galaxy vary in velocity as they rotate. I also learnt that if a typical spiral galaxy is rotating, the wavelengths appear to stretch on the side that is rotating away from us and then contract on the side that is rotating towards us. These measurements are extremely small, but I was glad that I could make sense of it. During the time I spent with Attila I also was able to use some computer software that looked at an individual galaxy and its contents of dark matter and visible matter. Using the software I could figure out a few ratios between the dark matter in a galaxy and the visible matter. I also had an experience using mathematical formulas to calculate total mass, visible mass and dark matter. It is truly amazing that their is so much dark matter that makes up approximately 25 percent of the universe and scientists do not know its contents.

Galaxies ready for categorisation.

Galaxies ready for categorisation.

After leaving the session, I returned to my desk to finish some independent work and also read some more information about ICRAR and the SKA. While doing this I ate lunch and then awaited a meeting with Simon Driver to talk about galaxies. Simon’s work was very interesting and the classifications of galaxies are definitely an interesting topic to learn about. After learning about galaxies, their evolution and also some basic types, I then was given a lengthy task involving the classification of galaxies. The main idea while classifying galaxies was to analyse many pictures (I think I analysed about 8000) and identify if they were in the incorrect category. The categories included elliptical, non-elliptical and also blue-flat. This was a long challenge but it was great to get an idea of what so many galaxies look like and their fundamental characteristics.

My second day at ICRAR was comfortable and enjoyable! Cant wait for day number three!

Wednesday September 12th 2012

I started day three at ICRAR finishing off categorising the galaxies that Simon Driver had given me the previous day. (Approximately 12000 in total). It was good to finally get them done and also to have a chance to view thousands of galaxies and their basic structures!

Shortly after, I met Ed Elson who specialises in multi wavelength galaxies. His work was extremely interesting and I was able to calculate some really cool things! We talked about red shift, blue shift and the electromagnetic spectrum. It was good to learn a few things and also understand the concepts behind what he was teaching me. Soon after, we used a virtual optical telescope program to find certain galaxies and calculate their apparent magnitude, absorption lines, distance and also their rate of expansion. While calculating this data it was clear that we could use this information to calculate a rough estimate of the age of the universe. This was extremely exciting and rewarding!

The time came to venture over to the UWA campus with Kirsten and attend a conference to take a few snapshots. The conference seemed complicated and I only viewed it for literally two minutes! The exciting part happened afterwards when I was introduced by Kirsten, to three of the local peacocks! I have never seen anything so bizarre (in a good way) in my life!

After arriving back from UWA I went to see Kevin Vinsen who works on the first floor at ICRAR, specialising in large databases. He displayed a presentation and went through the future technological plans for the SKA. His presentation was interesting and to be honest, mind blowing! I found it so amazing how future technology that hasn’t even been invented yet must be used for the SKA. It was also fascinating how large the storage capacity, power supply and processing speed had to be in order for the SKA to be successful. Kevin’s presentation was great and it was good to see a bit of humour included! 🙂

Returning from Kevin’s presentation, I went and saw Simon Driver to go through and analyse the galaxies. It was good to do some real astronomer work. While I was there we also talked about careers in astronomy, future plans and also other related fields.

The end of the day consisted of blogging, working on some more of my independent tasks and also covering all the information I had learnt from today.

Day three was awesome and I honestly learnt so much!

Thursday September 13th 2012

Day four started in a new environment at the ICRAR building in Curtin University. The ICRAR building at Curtin definitely was a bit more compact and confined compared to UWA, but there were some cool features such as the technology labs that housed various computers and also test model antennas for the SKA.

After a brief tour of the building by Kirsten, I was shown to a new desk which was located in a little glass room. The morning consisted of some independent work and also a new task involving some general questions about astronomy.

A few hours later I met Brian Crosse who works as a radio astronomy engineer. Brian was very funny and his method of explaining his work was very easy to understand. I learnt about radio telescopes, radio waves and also various features on the antennas that affect the data from the radio waves. This experience was an interesting one, as I learnt a new aspect of astronomy being about engineering and the technology needed. I was also lucky enough to learn about how radio telescopes receive radio waves, which is surprisingly interesting.

Immediately after my session with Brian I met James Miller – Jones who works on some very cool aspects of astronomy such as black holes, binary systems and also radio telescopes. James had some interesting research that he was working on and I had the opportunity to view a powerpoint which talks about his recent work and also what he is currently doing in is career. The fascinating part was about black holes and how they interact with ‘normal’ stars in binary systems. I learnt that scientists can collect data by observing the accretion of objects into black holes and that was something that I found really interesting. James invited me to attend a presentation by a scientist who works at Swinburne University. This presentation was about dark matter and its location. Hopefully by understanding where dark matter is, scientists can get an idea of what it is. I thank James for allowing me to attend this presentation even though it was difficult to understand.

Looking forward to day five!

Friday September 14th 2012

Finding galaxies at different radio frequencies.

Finding galaxies at different radio frequencies.

I have to admit, day five was a great day! Unfortunately my last day at ICRAR was cut short slightly but nevertheless I still enjoyed the entire day. The day kicked off with some independent research which I gladly finished in time. Shortly after I met Martin Meyer who works with the hydrogen content in galaxies. His research sounded fun and interesting and fortunately, not only did I get to hear about his research but he also let me use a very complicated program to find galaxies at different frequencies and write down their coordinates. The process was really fun and it just amazes me how astronomers can observe so much data through important methods such as radio. It was great to use a professional astronomy program and to also help out with some actual data collection.

My week at ICRAR has been absolutely amazing! I have to say it has been one of the best things I have ever experienced and I appreciate all the trouble that the staff went to, when making me feel welcome. All the staff including astronomers, ICT and administration are friendly people who are excellent to talk to. A big thanks to Kirsten who organised the entire week for me and helped me settle in at ICRAR. I really appreciate everything that ICRAR has done to include me and give me an awesome experience. If anyone has an interest in astronomy, astrophysics, engineering or ICT, this is the place to go for work experience.

Thanks ICRAR and thanks for reading! 🙂

Dillon Brown