"We think of these big problems in the Universe, and at the same time all of us can look up and wonder and enjoy it."
Where did you grow up? Were you always interested in your current field?
I grew up in Sacramento, California, which is about 2 hours from the coast, and 2 hours from the Sierra Nevada mountains. I wan’t interested in astronomy or space as a kid – it was just not something on my radar. I fell into it late in life!
Are you working from home? If so, how’s it going?
I have been working from home. In Astronomy, we have the benefit from mostly being able to work from anywhere. Our field has already shifted to having our telescopes either completely robotic or being able to use them remotely without traveling, given they are usually far away! NCI hosts lots of this data for us :)
Do you have kids/pets at home that are helping/hindering?
I have a 6 year old and a 3 year old that is a balancing act of working with and working around :) We also got a new puppy, Luna, in March. She was planned before lockdown/working from home, but it has meant lots of time with her and training :)
What projects are you working on right now?
A lot of my work right now is on the Australian Dark Energy Survey, called OzDES. We are searching and monitoring exploding stars (supernova), and galaxies with supermassive black holes inside of them, called Active Galactic Nuclei. We are trying to use this to understand both how black holes grow, and how the Universe is growing. A few of my PhD students are working on projects related to this.
I’m also working with collaborators in the US and my PhD student Harry to use NASA’s TESS, a space telescope that takes an image every 30 minutes, to see stars as they explode, and catch them within minutes.
What do you want people to know about the work that you do?
The smallest part of doing astronomy or astrophysics is using or looking through a telescope! It is not long nights, every night staring at the skies. I do do that, but just not that often! A few nights at a telescope every couple of months is lots of data that we have to work on, analyze, and interpret.
Also, very few of us actually know what is visible to the naked eye, like the constellations. We look at things really far away :)
Why do you love what you do?
Astronomy is so inspiring, but also so abstract and big, it is great! We think of these big problems in the Universe, and at the same time all of us can look up and wonder and enjoy it.
What is one specific thing that you have achieved (research or otherwise) that you are most proud of?
Doing outreach and education is a big part of my work as well. A big project I’ve been doing is traveling around Australia (pre-COVID) to regional and remote towns, to visits schools and run astronomy evenings with the school and community. When we visit, we’ve been giving telescopes to the schools so they can continue the momentum. I can’t wait to be able to travel and do it again!