School interview

A 13-year-old Swiss girl was given homework at school to interview someone whose occupation fascinates her. I was happy to help out.

  • How did you choose your profession as an astrophysicist?
  • It happened when I was 13 years old too. I attended physics classes in a new school and realized that I loved experiments, equations and analytical thinking. Out of many disciplines within Physics, learning about the Universe was the most engrossing for me. The program did not cover much about space at the time, so I was gathering materials (books, magazines) on my own. I convinced my parents to invest in my hobby and buy a telescope. I've spent nights under the clear dark skies in our garden, sometimes sleeping only 3h before going to school. I watched planets like Jupiter or Saturn, craters on the Moon, Messier objects or simply stared through the telescope into the vastness of space in search of something unusual. I've learnt to distinguish constellations and even imaged asteroids, comets. But for me, it was an adventure that meant a lot more than learning through observation. I was always hoping that studying laws of physics will help me make sense of why we came into existence. At the time, I've actually studied the schedules of all five years of the astronomy degree and made a decision at the age of 14 what and where I was going to study. I actually sticked to it and obtained a bachelor degree at that particular institution before I moved abroad.

  • How long are you already working as an astrophysicist?
  • 1.5 years ago I entered a graduate school after 5 years of studying. I did my first serious research project already during my 2nd year of studies.

  • What is your current research topic?
  • The variety of objects in the universe is fascinating. Once you become sort of familiar with them, then comes a second stage - the understanding of how these objects form. I moved from being a little explorer with a telescope to a theoretician. I am currently researching two topics which are tightly connected: gas in the Universe (bound to objects such as galaxies and spread between them in the so-called intergalactic medium), as well as the formation of galaxies which are gravitationally bound stellar (and gaseous) objects. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. So far, I focused on the objects such as our Milky Way Galaxy which has a nice thin disk and a bulge-like component with a bar. Along with my collaborators, we use supercomputers to perform expensive calculations that will give answers to our questions.

  • What do you like most working as an Astrophysicist?
  • What I love about being an astrophysicist is learning new things about the Universe every day. People usually think of our world as a globe called Earth with a pretty fixed sheet of points called the sky. But this is not true - the Universe beyond is three dimensional, vast, vibrant, wild and most certainly full of life. The truth is that we know so little about where we really are, where we live and what could happen to us. I cannot imagine not trying to find out..

    I also love to travel - and an astrophysicist has to do so. That is another means of exploration. We meet new people, get to know new cultures, and in the career process we learn from the greatest minds. I love people who are astrophysicists - I cant think of any other profession that would cluster so many open-minded, progressive and intriguing people with a great sense of what matters in life.

  • What do you dislike working as an Astrophysicist?
  • Research is not easy, sometimes it takes ages to make significant progress. It can be a struggle to secure funding, it can be a struggle to lead a casual family life, it can be a struggle to find a dreamy job in the same place as your partner. All these things are specific for a career of a researcher and are not unique for astrophysics. While answering this question, I realized that I cannot really name anything that I dislike particularly about working as an astrophysicist.

  • Which is your favorite planet?
  • I don't have a favorite planet. But I do have a favorite star - Vega. The reason is Carl Sagan's 'Contact' that is my most favorite story.

  • If you could travel anywhere in space where would you go?
  • That depends on whether I could come back to Earth.

    If so, then getting out of the atmosphere of Earth would already be enough. I would like to be somewhere sufficiently far (e.g. on the Moon) to see everything else from a different perspective. Looking at the Universe without seeing (fluctuations of the atmosphere) with an unaided eye must be amazing. Or experiencing microgravity. There are so many cool things that would happen once one leaves Earth!

    But, if that was supposed to be a one way trip, I would like to see what really happens when I'm inside a black hole.

    Or, to move to an Earth-like water world to see how different our world could be.