She's an Astronomer: Hanny van Arkel
Hanny van Arkel is a 25 year old teacher, who lives in the South East of the Netherlands with her German Shepherd, Janey. She plays guitar and at the moment she teaches music in a primary school in Heerlen, where she also works on science boxes (boxes of science experiments for kids) and is a general stand-in. Hanny discovered what is now known as “Hanny’s Voorwerp” while classifying galaxies on Galaxy Zoo, back in 2007. She writes about her adventures since then on www.hannysvoorwerp.com. (Picture Credit: H. van Arkel)
- How did you first hear about Galaxy Zoo?
I have a passion for music and play guitar myself. Brian May (Queen’s guitarist) is one of the people I admire for his music and for what he writes on his website, www.brianmay.com. When the project had just started, Brian wrote about it there, saying you could help scientists by sorting through these beautiful pictures. So that’s when I thought to check it out.
- What has been your main involvement in the Galaxy Zoo project?
That would be discovering “Hanny’s Voorwerp” and everything that happened ever since. I still classify galaxies as well, but mostly I ‘spread the word’ by talking to the (international) media, I give lectures about the Voorwerp and Galaxy Zoo and I participate in events, for example.
- What do you like most about being involved in Galaxy Zoo?
One of the things I still like is the fact that people without a scientific background can actually contribute to real scientific research here. And personally I get a lot back from it as well and then I’m not even talking about all the fun stuff I get to do. I’ve learned a lot about astronomy in general and the English language for that matter and I met some of my best friends through the Galaxy Zoo meet-ups.
- What do you think is the most interesting astronomical question Galaxy Zoo will help to solve?
Well, besides what the investigations of “Hanny’s Voorwerp” will bring, I’m also very curious as to what the “peas” exactly are, to just name two I’m involved in. But it’s a hard question actually, as there are so many things to learn from this project and it’s such a success… who knows what we’ll find out in the future?!
- How/when did you first get interested in Astronomy?
I’ve always been eager to learn and I liked all the subjects in school. I never had ‘astronomy’ as a subject though, but I do remember a little project about it in my primary school. However, I had always appreciated the night sky, even though I don’t have a telescope or anything. What really got me interested was Galaxy Zoo, back in the summer of 2007.
- What (if any) do you think are the main barriers to women’s involvement in Astronomy?
Are there? I mean, I know that only approximately a quarter of all professional astronomers are woman, but I can’t think of something that would’ve stopped me to be honest.
- Do you have any particular role models in Astronomy?
Yes, I’ve met a lot of people the past two years, who I admire. First of all, the members of the Galaxy Zoo Team. Besides coming up with this great idea and obviously working hard for it, they make sure the volunteers feel a part of it all. They take time to explain things in an understandable way, for instance. I also have respect for everything Pamela Gay does, she’s a very good example of a successful woman in astronomy. Furthermore I did a lecture together with Cees de Jager (website in Dutch) once, and it was great to see someone being so devoted to astronomy as he was. Patrick Moore, obviously. And Brian May, for ‘going back to school’ after all those years. And I recently worked with a few people from ASTRON (the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy) and thought the way Joeri van Leeuwen taught kids about pulsars was very inspiring. To name just a few.