She's an Astronomer: Julia Wilkinson
Julia Wilkinson (aka Jules) manages an Advice Centre in Manchester by day and is an amateur astronomer by night – out with her telescopes or binoculars if it’s a clear, starry night or inside with Galaxy Zoo or an astronomy book if it’s cloudy. Julia has a degree in Economics and has also studied music and has a house full of musical instruments that she fully intends to find time to play again one day! A more recent interest is astrophotography and one or two of her photos have appeared on the forum’s astrophotography thread. Enticed into astronomy having grown up with the Apollo Moon programme she has always regretted not studying sciences at school but spurred on by her involvement in Galaxy Zoo she now studies science and particularly astronomy with the Open University.
Back in May 2007 I came across stardust@home by accident while browsing astronomy websites and joined up straight away. I was looking to get involved in an astronomy project of some sort but didn’t expect to find anything. I thought the concept was remarkable and it was just what I was looking for as it allowed volunteers to contribute to real astronomy research. While looking for dust grains was OK my thing is visual astronomy particularly galaxies and star clusters.
A few weeks later while browsing the BBC news website I found the entry about Galaxy Zoo and signed up the next day. This was perfect. A chance to get involved in real research based on looking at galaxies and stardust@home was its inspiration! It was meant to be.
- What has been your main involvement in the Galaxy Zoo project?
I classify galaxies, try to keep up with the increasing number of additional projects that keep appearing and contribute to the forum which has become an amazing information resource. I’ve written a couple of items to help zooites identify some of the non galaxy things they might find while classifying – odd things and star clusters. I also try to answer newbies questions when I can. I’m also on the Object of the Day rota which gives me a chance to put into practice what I am learning.
I also attend Galaxy Zoo meet ups whenever possible which are great opportunities to discuss astronomy in general with like minded people and find out about future plans for Galaxy Zoo. I am also involved in a couple of projects looking at irregular galaxies, and Hyper Velocity Stars. The Irregular project is the first entirely volunteer led project. A small group of us are working with the data that Galaxy Zoo volunteers have produced by clicking away on the Irregulars Checking site, and we hope to write a paper showing our initial findings very soon.
- What do you like most about being involved in Galaxy Zoo?
I get a real kick out of the fact that I am contributing to cutting edge research in astronomy on an equal footing with other volunteers and professional astronomers. The sense of being part of a team is very real. The fact that we are kept informed of research developments on the forum and the Blog and then credited as co-authors in academic papers is wonderful and epitomises the ethos of Galaxy Zoo. I also like the fact that we are encouraged to have a go and analyse data for ourselves.
- What do you think is the most interesting astronomical question Galaxy Zoo will help to solve?
There are now so many Galaxy Zoo projects this is a difficult one to answer! There is the potential to fill in many gaps in our knowledge – about galaxy formation, clusters of galaxies, irregular galaxies, the curious “peas” etc. I suppose the most interesting question at the moment concerns the Voorwerp and it’s origins but what will turn up in the future is anyone’s guess! But I think one thing Galaxy Zoo has done is provided further evidence that Citizen Science is a successful way to conduct research where there are large amounts of data to sift through – astronomical or otherwise.
- How/when did you first get interested in Astronomy?
The Apollo Moon programme was very active when I was growing up and I was fascinated by it. I had my first telescope when I was 12. I learned the constellations, watched Patrick Moore and later Carl Sagan. I now own telescopes which allow me to see the Moon in incredible detail as well as planets and deep sky faint and fuzzy things and this is what I really love – the solitude and quietness of a dark, clear night, hunting down elusive fuzzy bits of sky.
- What (if any) do you think are the main barriers to women’s involvement in Astronomy?
Pretty much the same things as when I was at school I suppose. Girls just weren’t encouraged to take sciences. I think things have improved slightly since then but the popular myth still exists that maths is hard and science is stuffy and boring. I also think that the media is partly to blame for propagating this myth by getting it badly wrong when presenting some science programmes and portraying maths as something we all hated at school. Until these misrepresentations are changed I think there will continue to be barriers.
- Do you have any particular role models in Astronomy?
I’d have to choose good communicators – people who can engage and inspire through their enthusiasm for their subject and talk about it in an accessible way. So Carl Sagan, Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, Patrick Moore and Brian Cox would have to be up there. Alice, our forum moderator-in-chief also has that gift as does Chris Lintott and Pamela Gay. And as I’ve returned to studying science after a very long gap I have to admire Dr. Brian May for completing his doctorate after taking a few years out to play in a band. You see it’s never too late to learn!
This post is part of the ongoing She’s an Astronomer series on the Galaxy Zoo Blog is support of the IYA2009 cornerstone project of the same name (She’s an Astronomer). We are listed on the She’s an Astronomer website in their Profiles.
- Hanny Van Arkel (Galaxy Zoo volunteer and finder of Hanny’s Voorwerp).
- Alice Sheppard (Galaxy Zoo volunteer and forum moderator).
- Gemma Couglin (“fluffyporcupine”, Galaxy Zoo volunteer and forum moderator).
- Aida Berges (Galaxy Zoo volunteer – major irregular galaxy, asteroid and high velocity star finder). Entrevista de Aida en español
- Dr. Vardha Nicola Bennert (researcher at UCSB involved in Hanny’s Voorwerp followup and the “peas” project).
- Carie Cardamone (graduate student at Yale who lead the Peas paper).
- Dr. Kate Land (original Galaxy Zoo team member and first-author of the first Galaxy Zoo scientific publication; now working in the financial world).
- Dr. Karen Masters (researcher at Portsmouth working on red spirals, and editor of this blog series.)
Still to come in the series – more Galaxy Zoo volunteers and researchers. We’re not done yet!