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DAY 1: 3rd December 2018

I’m Isabella and after my first day of work experience at ICRAR (Curtin), I’m so excited to share with you my experiences and walk through what I did.

My day began with a quick tour of the facilities that I would be using, and I was introduced to my supervisor, Pikky Atri. After my tour, we sat down and discussed the birth of black holes, and binary systems. I’m fascinated by these topics, so this was incredibly enriching for me. I was then toured around the office meeting PhD students and discussing their work and research areas. The topics ranged from stars to space debris to cosmic rays to the electromagnetic spectrum.

During lunch break (a whole hour!), the work experience students sat with PhD students and got to know one another, sharing stories and asking questions. Throughout the afternoon I met more incredible and talented people, took a tour of the engineering lab, and was engaged in a mind-bending conversation about pulsars and neutron stars! Did you know that ‘mountains’ as small as 1 millimetre on a neutron star could possibly create gravitational waves because of the incredibly fast spin rate?

I’m so eager for my second day tomorrow! Thanks for reading and I’ll keep you posted on the upcoming days’ events.

DAY 2: 4th December 2018

Today was my second day of work experience, and I was lucky enough to spend my time near the beautiful UWA campus. After my first incredibly packed and tiring day, I was ready to get back into it and learn something new!

When we arrived, we were given a tour of the whole building, and we were introduced to everyone around the office. Greg Rowbotham (my UWA supervisor) then sat us down and talked to us a little bit about the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Mr Rowbotham is incredibly approachable and he’s very fun and easy to talk to! We then met a man who talked for ages about radio telescopes, redshift and special relativity, and he was so enthusiastic and made every minute of learning an enjoyable experience. We then got a chance to talk to a third year PhD student from England, who worked on simulations. She showed us some of her simulations and talked to us about life after high school.

When lunch break was over, Mr Rowbotham talked to us again about stars, stellar lifecycles, detecting potentially habitable exoplanets and the inevitable darkening of the universe due to accelerated expansion. This session for me was one of my favourites, because he was incredibly engaging and asked us lots of questions.

To end our first day at the UWA node, we completed an exercise that involved looking through images of galaxies, and checking if their light was being intersected by the light of stars or other celestial objects.

DAY 3: 5th December 2018

Today I was back at UWA, and excited for the day’s activities. When we got there, we were delivered to a room full of people, waiting to hear a presentation about Aboriginal astronomy. This speech was incredibly informative and easy to understand, and gave me a whole new outlook on my knowledge of astronomy. We were then hit with a wall of random knowledge at astro morning tea (AMT), learning about the etymology of several words, including coffee, genuine and disaster. When the presenter had finished his demonstration at AMT, Greg walked us through the process of weighing a galaxy. He made it incredibly straightforward, and explained it in great detail if we didn’t quite grasp the concept. After this it was time for a quiet lunch, we sat alone in comfy chairs and browsed ICRAR UWA’s massive collection of books, magazines and newspaper articles, a little bit of light reading.

Post-lunch involved watching a 40-minute video starring Alan Duffy, which talked about the beginning, expansion, shape and end of the universe. Greg then met up with us and answered any questions that we had generated. When we felt our questions had been appropriately answered, we met Dr Ivy Wong, who chatted with us about the shapes and star-forming capabilities of galaxies. This lasted for a short amount of time before the topic of discussion changed from galaxies to life after high school, and how she got to her current position (then she gave us space themed bookmarks!).

I’m halfway through my week of work experience and so far, I’m feeling so incredibly full-filled, I’ve learned an immense amount while I’ve been here, mostly about black holes, neutron stars and the history of our universe. Chatting to multiple PhD student has also led me to start learning how to code!

DAY 4: 6th December 2018

Day four of my work experience and today I’m back at the curtain node, ready to learn and meet even more people! The day starts with a chat from a geographer, who works with lots and lots of data. For a little while she talked about what she does and how she got from geography to astronomy, then she told us all about how as long as you study data, you can move around any of the sciences, because all sciences work with vast amounts of data, and the skills are transferable between the disciplines. We then talked to another student about how black holes are formed and the Chandrasekhar limit (The Chandrasekhar limit is the maximum mass of a stable white dwarf star. If the mass of the dwarf star is more than this limit, it will collapse into either a neutron star or a blackhole.) After a rousing discussion about blackholes, we were sent to a presentation along with all the researchers and PhD students. If I’m being quite honest, I missed the beginning, and I didn’t understand the rest of the lecture, there was lots of high-level maths that I had never even heard of, but it was fun nonetheless, because it gave an excellent insight into the daily lives of astronomers.

In the early morning we were treated to a morning tea, with free food and coffee! We walked around with our coffees, looking very grown up, and conversed with other astronomers attending the brunch. After gossiping with the scientists it was time for lunch. At lunch we sat with Pikky and some other PhD students, and some older researchers and engineers. After lunch we compared the Australian and American school and university systems and talked to PhD student, Nick, about coding and the pros and cons of what he does. We were then sent to our desks to complete a task given to us by Pikky.

This was my last day at the Curtin node of ICRAR, and the people I talked to there were really some incredibly talented and kind people, and I appreciate the time they all took out of their schedules to teach me about blackholes and neutron stars, I am so eternally grateful. You have all helped fuel my passion for astronomy and physics. Thankyou.

DAY 5: 7th December 2018

Today was my final day of work experience, and I was located at UWA. It was a sad morning knowing that I was heading off for the last time, but I hope I will be there in future, doing something I love. I took a big box of cupcakes to thank Greg, and everyone else in the office.

When we got there, we went to go visit the SPIRIT telescopes on top of the physics building, which I’ve been trying to get access to for ages! The inside of the domes is dark, and the walls are lined with photos taken using the telescopes, which are so much fun to look at. We were shown how the dome moves and they explained how the telescope copes with bad weather. Because it was Friday, we also got to experience the weekly morning tea that goes down at the UWA node of ICRAR. Some important people said a few words about important things, then the work experience students had to introduce themselves and say where they came from. When the announcements were done, everyone was chatting and eating and drinking coffee, and it was a really cheerful time.

We were then taken inside to join some of the PhD students at ‘plot of the week’; a gathering involving students presenting interesting and informal graphs to the rest of the students, and then proceeding to vote on who’s graph was the best. They also had pizza at plot of the week, so even though I didn’t understand some of the graphs, I got some yummy food. The PhD students were very inclusive and asked frequently if we had any questions.

After lunch, we talked to more people about galaxy formation, lifecycle and asymmetry, then went back upstairs (you get quite the workout) to talk to a young student about school, and life subsequently.

This week has really been one of the best during my time at high school and I highly recommend work experience here to anybody who has an interest in astrophysics. The staff are incredibly kind and extremely helpful, assisting in any way they can. The content is super interesting and you learn heaps of new things, and the facilities are really easy to navigate and user-friendly.