I was both excited and nervous to start off the work experience, after all I had been waiting almost a year for this chance, but I was ready to have a glimpse of what my future in academia may look like. As I got to the centre I met with two of the other work experience students, and we talked about what we thought the course may hold for us, it was good to get to know the other students as I knew they were as nervous as I was to start. To kick off the first day Greg, the outreach coordinator, took us on a tour of the ICRAR UWA facilities, showing us were the post doc researchers work, the faculty members do simulations and the PhD students spend their time when completing their doctorates. This day was mainly consisted of meeting with researchers and senior faculty members which provided a great insight into what I could be going into if I decided to continue my pursuit of further education in astronomy and physics.
The first day had helped me get comfortable in the workspace so I was really excited to work with and hear from all of the experts about what they do, who they are and where they came from. To start the day, we were once again greeted by Greg who took us down to the ground floor to meet Tristan Reynolds, a post doctorate researched who focused on the gas content of galaxies and how that could predict the future formation of stars and tell us about their history. This talk was one of my favourites as I was really interested what Tristan was researching and I found him really engaging in asking us questions and describing his graphs and what they meant. We then headed back upstairs and got a chance to have Greg answer our questions about what we had heard over the last day. Before we had lunch we met with one of ICRARs senior researchers, Luca. He took us through his schooling, coming from Italy, finishing his PhD in Marseille, working three different post doctorate jobs then finally ending up with his position at ICRAR. To end of day two we met with the so-called “Galaxy Girls”, a group of four PhD students with a range of interests within astronomy and physics. We started off by discussing the basics of black holes such as what they are, how they affect the matter around them and how they originated. It was really fascinating to see why these super dense spheres of mass swallow all of the matter that crosses their event horizon. To end the day we completely destroyed the galaxy on one of the students simulation software’s. My highlight of today would have to be either playing god with our galaxy or talking with Tristan about his research and path into astronomy.
The penultimate day of our work experience brought along a lot more information and insight into the life of am astronomer. After starting the day off talking with Greg once again we went to go meet with PhD student Omima Osman, focusing on cosmic dust and what it can tell us about the beginnings of the universe and its original properties. She took us through her upbringing and academic journey in Sudan, facing all odds and challenges placed against her by the judgements about women pursuing further education in her society to attend one of the most prestigious Italian institutes to attain her post graduate qualifications in physics and astronomy. After this she made the trip to western Australia for her PhD at UWA, working alongside the expert researcher and professors of ICRAR. This talk may have been one of my favourite part of the work experience so far as I was both intrigued by her work and in awe of how much Osman has gone through to fulfil her dream in academics. After this we met with Barbara Catinella, a post doctorate researcher who has been at ICRAR for almost six years. Barbara started off by taking us on a journey of how she made it from her home country of Italy to study and complete research at the University of Western Australia, then telling us about her current focus in the concentration of cold gas inside our galaxy and others in our galactic neighbourhood. We also found out the Catinellla was the husband of Dr Luca, who we had talked with yesterday. The next session we had was with professor Chris Power, a theoretical astronomer who mainly focuses on black holes. This talk was one of my favourites as black holes are one of my interests in astronomy so it was cool to see what research was being done already and what the future could hold for that research. For our second last session of the day we met with Dr. Lillian Garret-Smithson, another theoretical astronomer who works with simulations. Lillian showed us what life is like as an astronomer and the pros and cons of working in astronomy. Lillian had come from the university of Leicester, where she completed her masters in physics, leading to her arrival at UWA where she has been doing post doc work for just over two years so far. To finish off the day we had a conversation with Dr. Kate Harborne, a theoretical astronomer who had completed her PhD at UWA. My favourite part of today wasn’t necessarily a single talk, but just seeing how global the field of astronomy is and the opportunities to travel that come with the career.
Our final day at ICRAR felt like it had come so quickly, I was excited to have the chance to meet all of the astronomers during the morning tea but sad that I would have to finish this work experience today. To start off the final day we went down to the physics building with Greg to observe the SPIRIT telescopes which I found really interesting because of the sheer size of the telescopes and the enclosures they were kept in. After this we headed back to the ICRAR facilities to attend the astronomers morning tea. This was a really good experience just to see how the astronomers, researchers and professors all connected over their love of their field, although I was quite nervous to have to introduce myself to everyone. After we had talked with some of the astronomers and ate some of the food brought in we headed down to the first floor to calculate the weight of a galaxy, NGC 7531 to be exact. This part of the day was really fun as it gave me an opportunity to out the math and science id learnt both in school and in the work experience into practice whilst also collaborating with the other students. To end the final day of our work experience we headed over to the physics building once again, but this time to meet with two astronomers who worked on the engineering side of things. It was good to get to see how they were testing their theories and the machinery and equipment they got to use. We also went on a tour through the different labs of the physics building. This whole week has been a great learning experience and has really encouraged me to pursue a career in academia. So if you are a hopeful astronomer reading my blog, I urge you to take this chance, you won’t regret it.