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Zij is een astronoom: Hanny van Arkel

Our series of translations of the She’s an Astronomer interviews continues.

Hanny van Arkel

Hanny van Arkel

Hanny’s Interview in English

Hanny van Arkel is een 25-jarige lerares, die in het zuidoosten van Nederland woont met haar Duitse Herdershond Janey. Ze speelt gitaar en op het moment geeft ze muzieklessen op een basisschool in Heerlen, waar ze ook werkt aan het ontwerpen van wetenschapboxen (boxen met wetenschappelijke experimenten voor kinderen) en invalt waar nodig. Hanny ontdekte een object dat inmiddels bekend is als ‘Hanny’s Voorwerp’, toen ze in 2007 sterrenstelsels classificeerde op de Galaxy Zoo website. Sindsdien schrijft ze over haar avonturen opwww.hannysvoorwerp.com. (Foto: H. van Arkel).

  • Hoe hoorde je voor het eerst over Galaxy Zoo?

Ik heb een passie voor muziek en speel zelf gitaar. Brian May (Queen’s gitarist) is een van de mensen die ik bewonder om zijn muziek en om wat hij schrijft op zijn website,www.brianmay.com. Vlak nadat het project van start was gegaan, schreef Brian erover op zijn website. Hij vertelde dat je wetenschappers kon helpen door mooie foto’s te sorteren en dat leek me wel interessant.

  • Wat is je voornaamste betrokkenheid geweest in het Galaxy Zoo project?

Dat moet mijn ontdekking van ‘Hanny’s Voorwerp’ zijn en alles dat sindsdien gebeurd is. Ik classificeer ook nog, maar houd me voornamelijk bezig met het ‘verspreiden van de boodschap’ door interviews te doen met de (internationale) media. Ook geef ik lezingen over Hanny’s Voorwerp en Galaxy Zoo en werk ik bijvoorbeeld mee aan evenementen.

  • Wat vind je het leukst van het meedoen aan Galaxy Zoo?

Een van de dingen die ik nog steeds het leukst vind, is dat mensen zonder wetenschappelijke achtergrond daadwerkelijk een bijdrage kunnen leveren aan echt wetenschappelijk onderzoek. Persoonlijk krijg ik er ook heel veel voor terug en dan heb ik het nog niet eens over alle leuke dingen die ik door mijn ontdekking mag doen. Ik heb veel geleerd over astronomie in het algemeen en m’n Engelse vaardigheden zijn er ook op vooruit gegaan. Ook heb ik mensen ontmoet op een Galaxy Zoo-bijeenkomst, die ik nu tot mijn beste vriendenkring reken.

  • Wat is het meest interessante astronomische vraagstuk dat Galaxy Zoo zal helpen oplossen, denk je?

Buiten wat de onderzoeken naar Hanny’s Voorwerp zullen brengen, ben ik ook erg nieuwsgierig naar wat de ‘Peas’ (erwten) precies zijn, om twee voorbeelden te geven waarbij ik betrokken ben. Eigenlijk is het een moeilijke vraag, aangezien er veel dingen zijn die we kunnen leren en het project is zo’n succes… wie weet wat we nog meer zullen ontdekken in de toekomst?!

  • Hoe/wanneer werd je voor het eerst geïnteresseerd in astronomie?

Ik ben altijd al heel leergierig geweest en ik vond alle vakken op school leuk. Ik heb astronomie nooit als vak gehad, maar ik herinner me wel een klein project erover op mijn basisschool. Verder vond ik het altijd al fascinerend om ’s avonds naar de lucht te kijken, ook al heb ik geen telescoop. Maar wat m’n interesse eigenlijk echt aangewakkerd heeft is Galaxy Zoo, in de zomer van 2007.

  • Wat denk je dat de voornaamste belemmeringen zijn voor vrouwen, om betrokken te zijn bij astronomie?

Zijn die er? Ik bedoel, ik weet dat maar ongeveer een kwart van de professionele astronomen vrouw is, maar om eerlijk te zijn kan ik niets bedenken dat mij tegengehouden zou hebben.

  • Heb je rolmodellen uit de astronomie?

Ja, ik heb de afgelopen twee jaar veel mensen ontmoet die ik bewonder. Op de eerste plaats, de leden van het Galaxy Zoo team. Buiten het bedenken van dit geweldige idee en het harde werk dat ze ervoor doen, zorgen ze ervoor dat de vrijwilligers zich betrokken voelen. Zo nemen ze bijvoorbeeld de tijd om uitkomsten begrijpelijk uit te leggen. Ook heb ik respect voor de dingen die Pamela Gay doet; zij is een goed voorbeeld van ‘een vrouw in de astronomie’. Verder heb ik eens een lezing gegeven met Cees de Jager en het was leuk om iemand zo betrokken te zien. Patrick Moore, uiteraard. En Brian May, omdat hij na al die jaren terug naar school is gegaan om z’n opleiding af te maken. Tot slot heb ik recentelijk met een aantal mensen van ASTRON (het Nederlands instituut voor radioastronomie) gewerkt en ik vond de manier waarop Joeri van Leeuwen kinderen leerde over pulsars erg inspirerend. Om er een paar te noemen.

Hanny’s Interview in English


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.

This Dutch translation is of course part of our effort to be truly international!

Still to come in the series – more Galaxy Zoo volunteers and researchers. We’re not done yet!

She's an Astronomer: Pamela L. Gay

Pamela & her horse Skye

Pamela & her horse Skye

Dr Pamela L. Gay is on the faculty at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where she teaches, produces the Astronomy Cast podcast with Fraser Cain, and works with the Galaxy Zoo project. In addition to podcasting, she also works to communicate astronomy to the public through her Star Stryder blog, through frequent public talks, and through popular articles. She received a B.S. in Astrophysis from Michigan State University in 1996 and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Texas in 2002. While it may seem (even to her!) that she either lives on campus or online, she actually lives in a historic house in southern Illinois with her husband, two dogs, and a lot of books. Whenever she can, she escapes to Liberty Prairie Farm to ride her horse Skye.
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She's an Astronomer: Julia Wilkinson

Julia Wilkinson (Jules)

Julia Wilkinson (Jules)

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.

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She's an Astronomer: Karen Masters

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Karen and her daughter, Sept 2008.

Dr. Karen Masters is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, University of Portsmouth (also the 2008 Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation IAU Fellow). Originally from the Birmingham (UK) area, she did an undergraduate degree in Physics at the University of Oxford (Wadham College) then moved to the US to do a PhD in Astronomy at Cornell University (in Ithaca, NY). After 3 years as a postdoc at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard University (in Boston, USA) she moved back to the UK last year. Karen lives in Portsmouth with her husband (Wynn Ho, who is also an Astronomer – check out his Nature paper this week on the neutron star in Cas A (arxiv)), their 2 1/2 year old daughter and their cat. She is currently expecting her second child, due in the spring. She enjoys watching movies on TV (and misses going to the cinema), does yoga for relaxation, and wishes she could read more than one page of her book before falling asleep.

Read More…

She's an Astronomer – International Editions

Our She’s an Astronomer series is part of the International Year of Astronomy – and what better way to be international than to provide some posts in languages other than English! Thanks to Aida for inspiring this addition – she told me in an email she had translated her interview into Spanish for her parents and a light bulb went on. We’ll start with Aida’s interview in Spanish, shortly to be followed by posts in the native tongues of Hanny (Dutch) and Vardha (German). This idea turned out to be popular the non-native English speaking women involved, who provided their translations much more quickly than I’ll be able to post them!

Ella es una Astrónoma: Aida Bergés

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Aida’s interview in English


Aida Bergés (Lovethetropics) vive en Puerto Rico con su esposo e hijos.  Originaria de la República Dominicana, ella estudio en un colegio católico para señoritas (Colelgio del Apostolado), donde fue inspirada o motivada por su profesora de historia (Rosa María Reyes Feriz).  Después de graduarse de allí, inició la universidad a estudiar leyes, donde la Juez de la Suprema Corte, Ana Rosa Bergés Dreyfuss (miembro de su familia), se convirtió en una profesora muy querida.  Después de terminar su grado en inglés en otra universidad, ella desempeñó  varios trabajos secretariales como traductora.  Se trasladó a Puerto Rico a vivir con el mayor de sus hermanos y su esposa, conociendo entonces a su esposo, (Benito García Méndez).  Su rol principal en los últimos 30 años ha sido ser esposa y madre de Benny y Laura (ahora adultos; Benny trabaja y Laura se encuentra terminando su maestría en Psicología).  La familia ha pasado la mayor parte de su tiempo en Puerto Rico, excepto por 7 años que estuvieron en Jew Jersey, donde nacieron los niños.   A Aida le encanta leer historia, ciencia ficción y fantasia.  Ella tiene tres perros y un gato.  A ella también le encanta el océano, particular y especialmente ir a la playa o simplemente contemplar las olas.

  • ¿Cómo supiste de Galaxy Zoo?

Estaba leyendo CNN en línea y encontré un artículo que describía cómo una joven profesora de los países bajos, había encontrado un nuevo tipo de objeto que fue llamado Voorwerp de Hanny.  Era un artículo que celebraba el primer año de Galaxy Zoo.  Fui a Galaxy Zoo inmediatamente y mi vida cambió para siempre…  Para mí fue como llegar a casa.

  • ¿En qué te has involucrado más dentro del Proyecto Galaxy Zoo?

Formo parte del Programa de Irregulares y también del Proyecto de Estrellas  hiperveloces.  En el Proyecto de las galaxias irregulares, yo busco las galaxias irregulares y se las envío a Richard Proctor para ser integradas a la clasificación.

Tenemos ahora más de 17,000 irregulares y la cantidad o los números crecen cada día.  Además necesitamos la ayuda de los miembros de Galaxy Zoo con sus clicks (esos clicks lo que hacen es que tú decides si una galaxia es irregular o no) en la clasificación de Irregulares.  Le mando a Richard entre 100 y 500 posibles irregulares cada semana.  También trabajé en la clasificación  de tres Pea (guisantes), Integraciones, Voorwerpjes y Supernova.  Encontré un objeto verde inusual hace muchísimo tiempo que ha sido nombrado el objeto verde, misterioso de Aida, el cual ha sido el objeto del día.  Todavía no sabemos lo que es.

Los dos proyectos mayores en los que he estado envuelta han sido por pura coincidencia.  Con el proyecto de las irregulares yo era la que buscaba las galaxias para la clasificación y cuando decidimos escribir el primer artículo sobre astronomía, sin ser astrónomo, yo fui icluída.  Clasifiqué sola 24,000 galaxias para limpiar la muestra de espirales, elípticas, artefactos y objetos que no pueden ser identificados.   Después clasifiqué 12,000 más.

Para el proyecto de las estrellas hiperveloces fue pura coincidencia que encontré dos,  como en cinco minutos.  Tuve que buscar en Google el término “estrellas hiperveloces” porque no tenía idea que existían.  Lo publiqué en el sitio de los novatos y tenía que hacer un objeto del día y Thomas Jennings me dio la idea de publicar las estrellas hiperveloces conocidas.  El “Zookeeper” (esto es un astrónomo de Galaxy Zoo), Jordan, leyó el objeto del día y se emocionó tanto que un grupo de intrépidos miembros de Galaxy Zoo decidimos buscar más, yo soy una de ellos.  Estamos casi listos para hacer la primera página de una nueva división para ellas en Galaxy Zoo.

Hasta ahora solamente hay 16 o 17 estrellas hiperveloces conocidas; pero estamos muy  optimistas de que podemos conseguir más, aunque sea solamente por la gran cantidad de miembros que tenemos.  Nosotros somos más grandes que las fuerzas  armadas de Suiza.

  • ¿En qué es lo que más te gusta involucrarte en Galaxy Zoo?

Lo que más me gusta es ayudar a los científicos a descubrir nuevas cosas y estar allí cuando esto sucede.  Las personas en Galaxy Zoo son maravillosas, comenzando con los moderadores, los astrónomos de Galaxy Zoo (Zookeepers) y todos  los miembros en general.   Para mí es como estar en casa.

  • ¿Cuál tú crees que en astronomía es la interrogante más interesante que Galaxy Zoo ayudaría a resolver?

Con cada pregunta que respondemos, tenemos diez preguntas más.  Primero me gustaría saber el lugar que ocupan las galaxias irregulares en el universo. Después me gustaría saber si hay otros Voorwerpjen y dónde termina la saga de los Voorwerpjes, así como las galaxias anilladas en forma de tela de araña (así es que Aida denomina las galaxias que tienen anillos extendidos de muy baja luz superficial).  Esas son las galaxias más bellas para mí y como están formadas las galaxias anilladas de onda de choques.  Muchas preguntas y poco café.

  • ¿Cómo y cuándo te interesaste por primera vez en Astronomía?

Cuando era joven vivía en el campo, así es que las estrellas y la luna eran espetaculares… Desde que vi por primera vez las estrellas me han interesado.  Yo comencé a entrar al internet porque quería leer todo lo que pudiera sobre la astronomía.

  • ¿Cuál tú crees (si alguna) es la barrera más importante para que las mujeres se integren en la astronomía?

Bueno, yo vengo de un país del tercer mundo, República Dominicana. En mi ápoca se supone que las mujeres se casaran jóvenes y fueran amas de casa; pero ahora veo que las universidades allí están llenas de mujeres estudiando, lo cual me hace sentir muy orgullosa.  Ya no existen barreras para nosotras, quizás solamente algunos hombres reacios; pero las mujeres estamos ganando.

  • ¿Tienes algún ejemplo a seguir en astronomía?

Tendría que decir que los astrónomos de Galaxy Zoo (Zookeepers) son mi ejemplo a seguir porque antes de entrar a Galaxy Zoo yo no conocía a ningún astrónomo.  Especialmente Chris Lintott y Jordan Raddick porque estamos haciendo el proyecto de las irregulares juntos.  Jordan Raddick es doble porque el nos está ayudando con las estrellas hiperveloces.  También Bil Keel a quien estoy ayudando a conseguir más posibles Voorwepjes (estas son galaxias que tienen una emisión tan fuerte de radiación que es visible al ojo humano) y  Thomas Jennings que comenzó el sitio donde las personas nuevas en esto pueden hacer preguntas y quien  regresó a la universidad a estudiar astronomía.  A eso es lo que yo llama una persona comprometida.

La persona que me inspiró a amar la ciencia en general fue mi hermana Adolfina.  Ella es doctora en medicina con especialidad en Pediatría y Hematología.  Ella y su esposo, quien es también un Hematólogo, descubrieron un elemento en la sangra desconocido hasta el momento en que ellos lo encontraron.  Ella es la hermana más buena y amorosa que cualquiera puede tener.

Me gustaría incluir un profundo agradecimiento a mis padres, Rafael Bergés Lara y Thelma García de Bergés, al igual que a mis tios, Manuel Bergés Lara y tia Carmen.


Aida’s interview in English


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.

  • May 1st 2009: Hanny Van Arkel (Galaxy Zoo volunteer and finder of Hanny’s Voorwerp).
  • June 1st 2009: Dr. Vardha Nicola Bennert (researcher at UCSB involved in Hanny’s Voorwerp followup and the “peas” project).
  • July 1st 2009: Alice Sheppard (Galaxy Zoo volunteer and forum moderator).
  • July 27th 2009: Carie Cardamone (graduate student at Yale who lead the Peas paper).
  • Aug 28th 2009: Gemma Couglin (“fluffyporcupine”, Galaxy Zoo volunteer and forum moderator).
  • Sept 15th 2009: Dr. Kate Land (original Galaxy Zoo team member and first-author of the first Galaxy Zoo scientific publication; now working in the financial world).
  • Oct 1st 2009: Aida Berges (Galaxy Zoo volunteer – major irregular galaxy, asteroid and high velocity star finder). Entrevista de Aida en español

She's an Astronomer: Aida Berges

aida


Entrevista de Aida en español


Aida Berges (“lovethetropics“) lives in Puerto Rico with her husband and children. Originally from the Dominican Republic, she studied there in an all girl Catholic school (Colegio del Apostolado) where she was inspired by her her history teacher (Rosa Maria Reyes Feriz). After graduation she started a university degree in Law where Supreme Court Judge Ana Rosa Berges Dreyfuss (a family member) became a beloved teacher. After finishing her degree in English at a different university, she worked various secretarial jobs and as a translator. She moved to Puerto Rico to live with her eldest brother and his wife, and there met husband (Benito Garcia Mendez). Her main job for the last almost 30 years has been as a dedicated wife and mother to children Benny and Laura (now grown; Benny works in retail and Laura is finishing her Masters’s degree in Psychology). The family spent most of this time in Puerto Rico, except for a 7 year spell in New Jersey where the children were born. Aida loves to read history, science fiction and fantasy.  She has 3 dogs and one cat.  And she loves the ocean, especially going to the beach or just watching the waves.

  • How did you first hear about Galaxy Zoo?

I was reading CNN online and found an article describing how a very young teacher from the Netherlands had found a new kind of object and it was called Hanny’s Voorwerp.  It was an article to celebrate the first year of Galaxy Zoo.  I went to Galaxy Zoo immediately and my life changed forever…It was like coming home for me.

  • What has been your main involvement in the Galaxy Zoo project?

I am part of the Irregulars Project and also the Hyper-Velocity Stars Project (and check out their blog).  In the Irregulars Project I look for irregulars galaxies and send them to Richard Proctor to be integrated into the hunt.  We now have more than 17,000 irregulars and the numbers keep growing every day. And we still need the help of the Zooites with their clicks on the Irregular Hunt (check out the Irregulars Project forum discussion).   I send Richard between 100 and 500 possible irregulars every week. I also worked on the three Pea hunts, the Mergers hunt, the Voorwerpjes hunt and the Supernova hunt. And I found an unusual green object ages ago which has been dubbed Aida’s disturbed green mystery object and has been an object of the day (OOTD). We still don’t know what it is.

Both major projects I’m involved have been pure coincidence or serendipity.  With the Irregulars Project I was the one getting the galaxies for the hunt and when we decided to write the first paper about astronomy without being astronomers I was included.  I classified by myself 24,000 galaxies to clean the sample from spirals, elliptical galaxies, artifacts and unidentifiable blobs.  Then classified 12,000 more!

For the HVSs project it was pure coincidence that I found two in about five minutes.  I had to Google the term Hyper-velocity Stars because I had no idea they existed.  Posted it on the newbies thread and I had to post an “Object of the Day” (OOTD on High Velocity Stars) and Thomas Jennings gave me the idea to post the known HVSs. Zookeeper Jordan read the OOTD and got so excited a group of fearless zooites decided to look for more, I am one of them…we are almost ready to post the first entry on a new thread for them on Galaxy Zoo. So far there are only 16 or 17 known HVSs.  But we are still very optimist we can find more of them even if it is for sheer numbers. (We zooites are bigger than the Swiss Army.)

  • What do you like most about being involved in Galaxy Zoo?
What I like the most is helping scientists discover new things and being there when that happens. And the people at the Zoo are wonderful, starting with the Moderators, Zookeepers and Zooites.  For me it feels like coming home.
  • What do you think is the most interesting astronomical question Galaxy Zoo will help to solve?
With every question we answer we get ten new questions. First I would like to know the place of the Irregular Galaxies in the universe. Then would like to know if there are other Voorwerpen and would like to know how the Voorwerpje saga ends. And how the spiderweb ring galaxies (Eds note: Aida’s name for ring galaxies with very low surface brightness extended rings like this one) are formed. They are the most beautiful galaxies for me. And how the shockwave ring galaxies are formed too. So many questions, so little coffee.

  • How/when did you first get interested in Astronomy?
When I was young I lived in the country so the moon and stars were spectacular…ever since I first saw the stars I have been interested.  I started to surf the internet because I wanted to read everything I could about astronomy.
  • What (if any) do you think are the main barriers to women’s involvement in Astronomy?
Well, I come from a third world country, the Dominican Republic.  In my time girls were supposed to marry young and be housewives, but now I see that the universities there are full of women studying and that makes me so proud. There are no barriers now for us, maybe just a few reluctant men, but we are winning.

  • Do you have any particular role models in Astronomy?

I would have to say that the Zookeepers are my role models because before getting involved on Galaxy Zoo I didn’t know any astronomers. Chris Lintott and Jordan Raddick specially because we are doing the Irregulars Project together. And Jordan Raddick is double because he is helping us with the HVSs. And Bill Keel (NGC3314), I am helping him get more possible Voorwepjes. Thomas Jennings started the Newbies thread and has gone back to college to study Astronomy.  That’s what I call commitment. The person who inspired me to love science in general was my sister Adolfina.  She is a medical doctor with specialties in Pediatrics and Hematology.  She and her husband, who is also a hematologist discovered an element in the blood unknown until they found it.  She is also the best and most loving sister anyone can have.

I would also like to include thanks to my parents Rafael Bergés Lara and Thelma García de Bergés, and my Uncle Manuel Bergés Lara and Aunt Carmen


Entrevista de Aida en español


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. This is the 7th post of the series. So far we have interviewed

  • Hanny Van Arkel (Galaxy Zoo volunteer and finder of Hanny’s Voorwerp).
  • Dr. Vardha Nicola Bennert (researcher at UCSB involved in Hanny’s Voorwerp followup and the “peas” project).
  • Alice Sheppard (Galaxy Zoo volunteer and forum moderator).
  • Carie Cardamone (graduate student at Yale who lead the Peas paper).
  • Gemma Couglin (“fluffyporcupine”, Galaxy Zoo volunteer and forum moderator).
  • Dr. Kate Land (original Galaxy Zoo team member and first-author of the first Galaxy Zoo scientific publication; now working in the financial world).

Still to come in the series – more Galaxy Zoo volunteers and researchers. We’re not done yet!

She's an Astronomer: Kate Land

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Dr. Kate Land is from sunny Sussex on the south coast of the UK and her research/studies have taken her to Cambridge (undergrad), Imperial (PhD), and then Oxford (postdoc). Her PhD was on the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, and in particular exploring anomalies in the WMAP data and their implications for our cosmological models. During her postdoc, her research continued to focus on cosmological observations, such as galaxy surveys and supernovae data, and what they might tell us beyond our current understanding. While a postdoc in the Astrophysics group of Oxford University, Kate had the pleasure of sharing an office with Dr. Chris Lintott. But she assures him that this had nothing to do with her decision to leave the field and enter into a new profession! Kate now works as a quantitative researcher in finance, and enjoys living in London with her boyfriend and savoring the delights of North London pubs at the weekends.

  • How did you first hear about Galaxy Zoo?

In the pub with Chris! Another cosmologist (Anze Slosar) and myself were interested in investigating recent claims in the literature about the rotations of spiral galaxies in our local universe aligning in an unlikely way (they shouldn’t really align at all!). But we realised that we’d have to go through thousands of images of galaxies (or develop some software) to identify the handedness of the galaxies. We thought about dumping a laptop in the coffee area of our department to get people to help, and I asked Chris for advice over a pint one evening – because I knew he was very good at crowd-sourcing (having already got children from around the world to observe a quasar for him 24 hours a day!). He then told me about Galaxy Zoo, which was in its infant stage at this point. And it was a great match – our project would fit in perfectly, adding another scientific motivation to GZ while Anze and I would provide some more ‘man’ power!

  • What has been your main involvement in the Galaxy Zoo project?

I was pretty heavily involved in all stages of the project for its fist year from helping to test the site, monitor traffic, analyse data, interact with zooites, deal with the press, and eventually publish papers! I was part of the front line when it all kicked off in July 07 – and I mean front line! It was madness with thousands of emails a day coming in, media people ringing for interviews, and servers exploding! I loved answering peoples questions but we quickly realised that we couldn’t keep up with the emails and we launched first the FAQ page on the site, and then the forum. The media part was fun too… doing live radio interviews on the fly, and helping with pieces for New Scientist, Physics World, etc. About 9 months after Galaxy Zoo launched we submitted the first Galaxy Zoo paper. It was an awesome moment for me, and the whole project, when it got published.

  • What did you like most about being involved in Galaxy Zoo?

The popularity of the site was absolutely heart-warming. I used to get quite emotional reading emails and posts on the forum from zooites who loved the project and were wild about astronomy. So much of an academic’s work can be remote, abstract, and cut off from the ‘real-world’. And it was just brilliant to work on something that touched so many people.

  • What do you think is the most interesting astronomical question Galaxy Zoo will help to solve?

The cosmology ones! But I am biased… to be totally honest I didn’t know much about galaxies when I first got involved with GZ. I was, and remain, more interested in cosmology; the study of Universe as a whole. And as objects sitting in space, galaxies can reveal a lot about how the Universe is expanding, and any invisible forces that are influencing them.

  • How/when did you first get interested in Astronomy?

As a kid I was always fascinated by big questions, like ‘where is the edge of the Universe?’, and ‘what is empty space made of?’. I couldn’t sleep sometimes for getting myself so confused and freaked out! My granddad was also a massive influence on me – he was a mathematician, and fascinated by astronomy. At 7 he bought me a calculator, at 8 a star chart, and at 9 a subscription to the Junior Astronomical Society. I also got handed down a telescope about this time and saw some of Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings from my bedroom window. Very cool! Maths became my thing at school, college, and Uni. But in my second year at Uni I got back into astronomy – heavily influenced by images from the Hubble telescope which are gorgeous and awe inspiring. I found the scales, temperatures, and physics involved with the stuff going on in the Universe very exciting – and I was chuffed to be able to do the final year of my degree in Astrophysics (rather than Maths). This was the first step towards me becoming a theoretical cosmologist, and thinking about those big questions again!

  • What (if any) do you think are the main barriers to women’s involvement in Astronomy?

I don’t know of anything stopping women getting involved in amateur astronomy. But I don’t think the academic career path suits women particularly well. I was always given enormous encouragement from my peers and never felt discriminated against. But I personally wasn’t keen on the post-doc circuit of moving about every few years… I wanted to plan for the future and ‘nest build’ somewhat, and in a location of my choice! I think this is more of a female thing – to agonise over the future. But it might have just been me being unadventurous!

  • Do you have any particular role models in Astronomy?

My supervisor, Prof. Joao Magueijo, was an enormous influence on me. Not only a genius, but a lot of fun to work with – very supportive, unpatronising, and encouraging with his students and very involved in the research we did together. Another inspiration is Dr. Sarah Bridle, of UCL. A very smart woman, who is refreshingly unpretentious and friendly! I’d say she is a great role model for female academics.


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 now listed on the She’s an Astronomer website in their Profiles. This is the sixth post of the series. So far we have interviewed:

  • Hanny Van Arkel (Galaxy Zoo volunteer and finder of Hanny’s Voorwerp, “Hanny”).
  • Dr. Vardha Nicola Bennert (researcher at UCSB involved in Hanny’s Voorwerp followup and the “peas” project).
  • Alice Sheppard (Galaxy Zoo volunteer and forum moderator, “Alice”).
  • Carie Cardamone (graduate student at Yale who lead the Peas paper).
  • Gemma Coughlin (Galaxy Zoo volunteer and forum moderator, “Fluffyporcupine”).

Still to come in the series – more Galaxy Zoo volunteers and researchers, including next: Aida Berges (“Lovethetropics”), high velocity star searcher extraordinaire!

She's an Astronomer: Gemma Coughlin

Zooites at the recent Greenwich Meeting. Gemma is the furthest on the right (white t-shirt).

Zooites at the recent Greenwich Meeting. Gemma is the furthest on the right (in the white t-shirt). Also pictured (from left to right) Hanny (profiled earlier this series), Edd, 'Blackprojects', Thomas J, Bill Keel, Waveney (Richard Procter), and Jules (who will be profiled later in the series).

Gemma Coughlin (better known as “fluffyporcupine“) has been one of the Galaxy Zoo forum moderators since last December when Chris asked her to help out with the ever growing forum. Gemma is a postgraduate student at Cambridge University, studying for a PhD in Engineering.  Her work aims to improve computer simulations of objects with complex geometries (for example simulations of cars moving through air) by trying to figure out a way to automate how the space is divided up into a mesh to put into the computer. This can have a significant effect on the result of the simulation, and is tricky and time consuming to do by hand.

Gemma is originally from Swansea in Wales, and did her undergraduate at Swansea University in Mechanical Engineering. Apart from stargazing, her main hobby is karate (she is a 1st Dan and has been Women’s captain at Cambridge). She also enjoys watching motorsort (mainly Formula 1) and Rugby (Cymru am byth!). Contrary to a popular theme on the forum (cats), she is very much a dog person and likes taking her dog for a walk on the beach when she goes home to Wales.

  • How did you first hear about Galaxy Zoo?

I saw an article on the BBC news website, but the servers had already melted by the time I tried to sign up, so I registered a day or so after the  start.

  • What has been your main involvement in the Galaxy Zoo project?

I guess my main involvement has been as a chatter box on the forum! I classified a fairly large number of images on Zoo1, not quite so many on Zoo2 though. Other than that I have been a keen lens hunter (blog entry about lenses) and have helped with the peas. I am in the acknowledgments (along with the other members of the peas corps) for the Peas paper – I was the first person to point out that all the peas had a large OIII spike and that most seemed to be starforming galaxies or AGN.

  • What do you like most about being involved in Galaxy Zoo?

The community without a doubt. I have learned so much from the forum – especially when one of those interesting/awkward images comes up to classify. Everyone is so patient and helpful (even if we disagree) and very free with a wealth of knowledge (and the beer at meet ups). Never thought I would meet so many kind and interesting people on the internet let alone for so many of them to become friends!

  • What do you think is the most interesting astronomical question Galaxy Zoo will help to solve?

I think it will help greatly with Bill Keel’s study of dust in overlapping galaxies considering the number of times we’ve multiplied his sample size (from 20 to 1900 at last count)! I’d also like to add that I think the irregulars project (get involved here) is interesting as its entirely Zooites that are investigating them and they too are analysing a much larger sample size (N>9000) than previous studies (which has about 150, thanks for the numbers Alice!).

  • How/when did you first get interested in Astronomy?

My dad showed me Saturn through a scope as a kid – that got me hooked. He still laughs at my reaction – the wow i can SEE the rings! (Editor’s note – Saturn really is impressive through a small telescope. Check out Sky and Telescope’s Guide to Saturn for some pictures, and if you’ve never seen it I really recommend you try!)

  • What (if any) do you think are the main barriers to women’s involvement in Astronomy?

I guess it’s the same as with engineering, I don’t think maths and science are presented in an interesting way for girls at school and they are perceived as hard, rigid, dusty disciplines. I guess they are hard, but that makes it all the more special when you achieve something. I know it’s not for everyone, but if people could see more clearly at a young age how many cool things you can do with maths and science and the sense of achievement you get from problem solving, that they aren’t dry subjects that you learn by rote and that there are still many interesting things to discover, I’m sure a lot more people would be interested, be they women or men.

A friend and I  spent GCSE maths turning the more boring GCSE maths questions in to problems about racing cars and our favorite F1 drivers! My interest in engineering really started because I got drawn into (fast) cars and was fascinated by how they work and the engineering that goes into them to do what they do! For example, did you know that an F1 car can generate enough downforce to equal its weight, so it could theoretically drive on the ceiling in a tunnel!

  • Do you have any particular role models in Astronomy?

I guess it has to be the Zookeepers! Not only for the way that came up with a way of answering the questions they were interested in, but for coping with the monster they have created in the Zoo! Can’t be an easy job keeping 200,000 people on your good side.


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.

This is the fifth post of the series. So far we have interviewed

  • May 1st 2009: Hanny Van Arkel (Galaxy Zoo volunteer and finder of Hanny’s Voorwerp).
  • June 1st 2009: Dr. Vardha Nicola Bennert (researcher at UCSB involved in Hanny’s Voorwerp followup and the “peas” project).
  • July 1st 2009: Alice Sheppard (Galaxy Zoo volunteer and forum moderator).
  • July 27th 2009: Carie Cardamone (graduate student at Yale who lead the Peas paper).

Still to come in the series – more Galaxy Zoo volunteers and researchers, including our next interview which will be with original team member, Dr. Kate Land.

Galaxy Zoo Supernovae from a technical standpoint

I’ve just finished writing up some of the more technical details associated with our recent supernova hunt.  If you’re interested in how it all worked behind the scenes then head over here…

Cheers

Arfon