Research Fellow at the University of Queensland
On the road to Dark Energy with the largest 3D map of the Universe.
I work with the Dark-Energy-Spectroscopic-Instrument (DESI), a ground-breaking new instrument with which we are making the largest ever 3D map of the distribution of galaxies in the Universe. We are two years into a five-year survey in which we plan to map over 30 million galaxies spread across the last 11 billion years. I am co-leader of the DESI Lensing working group, coordinating over 100 researchers around the world.
DESI will create a treasure trove of data with which we will be able to measure the properties of the mysterious dark energy that is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, one of the most profound puzzles in fundamental physics today.
My team will use DESI data to make the most precise measurements of our galactic large-scale structure ever performed and use these to uncover the nature of dark energy.
My research aims to generate new knowledge in fundamental physics and training in data science (essential for Australia's economy) while fostering worldwide collaboration opportunities.
New Knowledge: The results from this fundamental research will generate new knowledge on the big questions in the Decadal Plan for Australian Astronomy (2016-2025) through a unique investigation of the evolution of the Universe and its structures. Specifically, my research aims to improve understanding of the “nature of dark energy” and “the nature of matter and gravity”, using the largest 3D map of the cosmos to reconstruct the cosmic expansion history over the past 11 billion years.
Communication: Big-picture results from the proposed research constitute a powerful tool for scientific outreach, inspiring and engaging the public.
I will continue doing outreach by engaging with schools and the wider public, through school talks, mentoring programs, and public lectures. I am currently collaborating with the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium, where I am co-organizing a premiere for the film on the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument.
Investment: My research aims to enhance Queensland’s world-class research reputation in observational cosmology, and its historic leadership position in past galaxy surveys, such as the WiggleZ Dark Energy Survey, led by the University of Queensland (Drinkwater et al., 2010). The next-generation optical telescopes are located outside Australia, therefore to stay at the forefront of this field we need to be part of these global collaborations. My research allows Queensland to leverage the huge international investment in Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (USD $ 100 million from USA’s DOE) and the Vera Rubin Observatory (USD $ 655 million from USA’s NSF) to reap scientific leadership in this field. The high-impact results generated using these facilities will boost the profile of Australian research on the world stage.
Training: The research I am conducting is creating significant expert training opportunities in astronomy and computer science. The methods developed in my research will be on the cutting edge of machine learning one of the most innovative fields in the current economy, with applications in marketing, medical diagnostics, and economics and one of the skills associated with cybersecurity. Expertise developed during this project, in terms of specific data mining and machine learning techniques, is very valuable for the future of astronomy, providing training and transferable skills that will then go on to contribute to the greater community, including students and collaborators.
Collaboration: My research positions Australia (and Queensland) in a leading role for DESI’s key science projects, building and strengthening international collaborations. It will leverage my unique leadership roles within this survey, as well as my existing connections with worldwide leading institutions formed through the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and European Space Agency (Euclid). The PhD and honours students involved in this project will also have incredible networking opportunities.
In addition to working with supercomputers and galaxies, I am a passionate science advocate and public speaker. I am actively involved in outreach activities (described under Engagement) and through my research and teaching roles, I aim to inspire the next generation of STEM careers, in particular women and minorities.
I am an advocate for making the STEM field accessible to everyone. During my career, I took part in different initiatives to reduce structural barriers faced by different minorities in academia and inspire the next generation of STEM careers. I am part of the Women in Science Association with the aim to foster a community for young women in STEM within and beyond the academic community. I worked and volunteered at NGO centres in Italy and Australia, supporting young students to overcome educational inequality caused by poverty and other conditions. From these experiences, I have learned how to interact with students from diverse backgrounds and support them to move positively to further study, recognising their potential and abilities.
While Astrophysics is often considered a traditionally male-dominated field, one of the reasons why I chose this career is having been inspired by the incredible achievements of leading women in the field. In my role as a University researcher and lecturer, I had and will continue seeking multiple opportunities to inspire students to pursue studies in STEM fields, and actively support a diverse environment of STEM students. I am involved in and committed to student supervision, I have been supervising more than ten students to date embracing every ethnicity, gender, age, religion, language, abilities, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or country of origin. In 2020 I was awarded the Early Career Researcher (ECR) Swinburne University Postgraduate Research Award (SUPRA), worth $90,000 with the purpose of “supporting outstanding researchers through access to a scholarship for a promising PhD student to further the research area while building the capacity of our ECRs to supervise and publish quality research outputs", that I used to hire a very talented female student from a country in difficult economic condition.
I have been an ambassador for the @Womendoingscience Association, where I wrote blog pieces about my research role in big astronomy collaborations. Further, I took part in the “StillAScientist campaign showing the world that scientists are as diverse as the fields they study where I talked about my experience working in largely male-dominated fields, encouraging students to go beyond the cultural and social stereotypes about the characteristics of scientists and scientific jobs. I also used to report my life as a scientist as @blondeinscience (Sci-comm account with 1,500 followers 2016-2019) on Instagram.
Since 2021 I have been on the Early Career Chapter committee for the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA) to promote and assist the career development of early and mid-career researchers in the Australian astronomy community. I am also part of the Health Safety and Wellness-committee Ambassador program at the University of Queensland, with the aim of contributing to creating a safe and healthy space for staff and students.
I am passionate about communicating top-level research ideas to audiences outside our immediate academic sub-community. I have experience in various media, including radio, public talks and lectures to local schools, science festivals and amateur astronomy groups, and through written pieces. I have previously volunteered for popular outreach events such as BBC stargazing in England, the Melbourne Grand Prix, and different astronomy art exhibitions engaging with large, enthusiastic crowds. My articles have been mentioned several times in national and international news outlets, such as New Scientist and Forbes (Altmetric, Nov 2022), demonstrating the impact of my work on the general public.
Last year, I was invited as a lead researcher at the Inspiring Women in Science and Health (I-WISH) workshop. The event’s primary objective was to facilitate students’ exposure to the diverse careers and research projects that women of science have and can pursue. I have been working with a group of Year 10 female-identifying students to devise a ‘change-maker’ idea or strategy that could effectively promote or advocate for research in Astronomy. We received many positive comments from both students and teachers. Some examples are listed below: “It was so amazing! I highly recommend it for younger girls as well. I went in with an open mind and heard many amazing things. It makes me very excited to explore science.” Year 10 student Heather B. “I am so glad that this event has continued and another group of girls have been inspired.” Year 11 student Lara S. “Flinders students were not only inspired by the exciting studies our guest researchers are undertaking but by their grit, empathy and commitment to making the world a better place,” Dr Louise McCuaig (Flinders staff).
Below are some further examples of engagement and STEM promotion activities I took part in:
2023, Public Lecture at the Astronomical Association of Queensland.
2023, Talk at UQ Stargazing Astronomy Astro Talks
2022, ‘Meet a DESI member’ Blog, for Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, outreach and education.
2022, Astro-Work experience students. 1 week of mentoring Y11 students from different high-school.
2022 “Interview with a Scientist” by Malaak Selem (QUT).
2022, Public lecture for Science Week, Flinders College, Australia.
2022, Inspiring Women in Science and Health conference + workshop, with Y11 female-identifying students. Sunshine Coast.
2022, Media release for Women Astronomers Day (Swinburne University).
2022, Canberra, Meeting with Minister M. Price to discuss the importance of Astronomy in our community
2021, Women in Science Association Astro Colloquium.
2021, Media release for Women Doing Science magazine.
Further, I have been invited to present my work at important international conferences around the world. Below are listed some highlights:
2023, Invited Colloquium at the University of Melbourne, Melbourne.
2023, Invited Colloquium at ICRAR/UWA, Perth.
2022, Astronomical Society of Australia Conference, Tasmania..
2021, “GOLD: The Golden Cosmological Surveys Decade” workshop, Paris, France
2021, “Colloquium at Universitat de Barcelona”, Spain.
2020, Invited Colloquium at Berkeley University,
2020, ‘Precision modelling of clustering and lensing', Stanford University.
2020, “Statistical challenges in the era of LSST”, Oxford.
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