Posts Tagged ‘astronomy’

Astronomy + Dance + Friends = Awesome

December 3, 2009

Whew! I’ve just about recovered from last week’s activities, and finally have some time to post again. Here’s what I got up to.

At the end of every year the graduate students in my department host a one-day conference for Astronomy students from all over Australia. I have no idea how this tradition got started (lost in the mists of time, I suspect) but it’s a fantastic idea and it always turns out to be a great day. At the start of the year a committee of four or five students is appointed to do all the organising, but of course one person is in charge, to coordinate the others and do the major jobs. This year, I volunteered for the job. Although it turned out to be more work than I expected, it was such a valuable experience and I don’t regret it at all. At times it was stressful, but it’s so pleasing when something you’ve been organising for ages goes off well. And this year, it turned out to be even bigger than ever.

2009 was officially designated the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), so Astronomy outreach events have been happening all around the world all year. After I advertised our little conference at the major Astronomy conference I went to in July, I was contacted by the Australian IYA coordinator. She suggested that we should celebrate IYA by running an extra session at our conference: a workshop on how to Dance Your PhD.


I first heard of the concept of Dance Your PhD about a year ago, and it’s basically what it sounds like—communicating your research through movement. There is an international competition run every year, and lots of people do it just for fun too. You can find heaps of examples on YouTube—make sure you read the blurbs so you know what they’re trying to describe. I mean, how awesome is that?! And the best thing is that you can interpret ‘dance’ however you want—ballet, mime, tango, hip hop, random movements to music, whatever.

As a lifelong dancer and dance-lover, of course I was immediately hooked. And so, after doubling my organisational commitments, the idea culminated in a day-long workshop which we held on Thursday, with the help of a physical theatre artist from Melbourne. It was probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time—prancing around pretending to be a tidally-stripped dwarf galaxy or waving my arms impersonating a radio telescope—you just can’t beat it. You can’t. And the idea appealed to so many people that we ended up occupying most of the science page in Sunday’s paper.

The next day, Friday, was the conference proper. Again, everything went off spectacularly well. We had several interstate students, both old friends and new, who were able to attend—someone even came from Perth! Everyone gave such high-quality talks, either about their research or about another part of Astronomy that interests them. And because we’re students, we have a bit of fun: every year some of the talks are cleverly funny in that very scientific way, audience members who ask questions get space-themed confectionery in return (mars bars and milky ways ftw!), and talking beyond your allotted time will get you shot with nerf guns. And of course there’s the networking and socialising over morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, and the celebratory dinner. A dinner which, this year, was augmented by a performance of the routines developed at the Dance Your PhD workshop the day before.

The two days were so wonderful, especially after all the work I put into making them happen. And of course thanks also to the lovely people who helped me all the way, and went above and beyond on the day. You know who you are, and you’re the best :)

Here’s to next year’s conference!


I am now officially a published author

October 19, 2009

Look what arrived last week:

conference proceedings

the proceedings for the conference I went to in Santa Fe earlier this year. And on page 122 is my little paper, all professionally printed and bound up with everyone else’s. Squee!

Conference proceedings aren’t the most highly regarded forms of publication in the academic community, but to a newbie like me that hardly matters. And anyway, once Monthly Notices gets their act together, I’ll have a proper publication to crow about!

New office

September 10, 2009

I moved into a new office this week!

stag blackboard sticker

It’s the first time I’ve been by myself, so I’m taking the opportunity to decorate it just how I want.

my desk

It’s on the lowest floor which means it’s nice and quiet—there aren’t many offices down here. And this floor is the only part of the observatory with slab heating. No more fussing with radiator knobs for me! There’s a graduated temperature control on the wall, and if my feet get cold, I just take off my shoes.


There’s a nice view out to the Brindabella mountains from my window, too. And did I mention the reverse cycle aircon unit, the ceiling fan, or the lights with dimmer switches? (Dimmer switches! In an office! What luxury.) I’m a big fan of the frosted glass walls on the corridor side too.

frosted glass wall

It’s still a bit echoey in here, but I have plans for several indoor plants and hopefully a comfy seat. Oh, and all that work that needs to be done…

Conferences are not sleep-friendly

July 9, 2009

Despite the title, this is not going to be a grumpy post. I’ve been having a great time in Melbourne, but unfortunately I’ve had such a great time I haven’t taken any photos (not a single one) so you’ll just have to imagine the wonderful things I describe.

The conference I’m here in Melbourne for—the annual meeting of the Astronomical Society of Australia, or ASA—is the biggest event of the Australian Astronomer’s calendar. Many Astronomers from Universities all around Australia, and just about all the students, converge for five days of scientific talks, scientific posters, and somewhat scientific drinking (Drinking has a science, right? right??). I managed to come down with a cold on the first day so my week has included a bit less alcohol and a bit more sleep than I planned (and in comparison to most other students!) but I’ve still managed to do my share of networking. That seems to be mainly what conferences are about—the social stuff that goes on after the talks have finished for the day. (Before I left, my supervisor asked me somewhat sardonically whether I’d get any work done this week. But everyone here agrees that the drinking—sorry, ‘networking’—is just as important as the science. I think next time I’ll say, ‘you can’t spell networking without work!’)

I was a little disappointed with the selection of talks this year—too much cosmology and galaxy Astronomy and too little stellar Astronomy for my taste—but overall the quality of the science has been really good. This is heartening as Australia isn’t really one of the heavyweights in the International Astronomical community. But two of my friends and fellow students gave really good talks, and one of them even got a prize—very well-deserved. I gave a poster again this year (wasn’t successful in my application for a talk) and was lucky enough to be awarded the prize for best student poster! Which made my week.

Socially this week has been great, and it’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to discover a bit more of Melbourne. We’ve been to a fancy wine bar to learn the intricacies of wine-tasting and try some wonderful cheese. We walked to a quirky but fantastic Greek restaurant where we never saw a menu but ate the most amazing food. We’ve sneaked out of talks to go shopping in Fitzroy, the City, and Prahran, where I got some cute and unique jewellery. We’ve drunk cocktails with names like ‘Lawn bowls on a hot Melbourne day’ and ‘Things to do in Denver when you’re dead’. We’ve taken trams, buses, trains, and we’ve walked. Oh, we’ve walked. All our feet are sore, but the choice between catching the last tram or staying for one more drink is not really a choice at all. Not when you’re meeting new people, and having a proper chat with old friends in a new environment. It’s been lovely.

But, as I said, it hasn’t been sleep-friendly. To our credit, despite the late nights that were actually early mornings we’ve hardly missed any morning sessions. The ready availability of good coffee in Melbourne has helped with that. But I’m looking forward to the weekend, to staying with Libby’s parents, to cups of tea and early nights and time on the couch. And then discovering a different part of Melbourne, and hopefully shaking off this cold. And, of course, doing it all again next time.


July 6, 2009

Goodness I seem to be gallivanting off everywhere at the moment. Currently I’m in Melbourne, ostensibly for an Astronomy conference but mainly for the shopping, the food, and the socialising—sorry, ‘networking’—with other Astronomers. But more news on that later, I’ve been so busy with hardly any time to update here.

There is some FO news I’m saving up, but I’m waiting on photos at the moment. That’s right, be prepared for better-than-usual photos! Which is good as this is a particularly hard to photograph piece.

Hello, Boston

June 7, 2009

My last couple of days in Santa Fe seemed to go by in a whirlwind of conference talks, knitting, and people. The conference dinner on Thursday night went off as expected—there’s always at least one Astronomer who shows up in some outlandish outift


but apart from that it was a reasonably classy night, enjoying the balmy evening on a terrace above Santa Fe. We were lucky enough to hear an address by Robert Christy, an elderly Astronomer who was (and is) definitely one of the giants in the field of Stellar Pulsation.

The conference ended mid-afternoon on Friday and I had a bit of time before the bus left to take us all back to Albuquerque, so I wandered around the town for the last time. While munching a tasty chocolate croissant (last one left at the bakery!) I wandered into the cathedral park where I found this band playing.


At first I thought they were glockenspiels (they’re very like them) but later I found out they’re marimbas, a traditional Zimbabwean instrument. All tuned to different octaves, and with drums to help, it made very rhythmic but very chilled music—perfect for relaxing in the park. I bought their CD and can’t wait to listen to it.

The next morning, after a brief night at a forgettable hotel in Albuquerque, I was once again in transit. Albuquerque to Denver, then Denver to Boston, and to Eduard! One of my very good friends from Stromlo who now lives here.

The little I saw of Cambridge yesterday afternoon and last night was beautiful. Spring is in full swing here (such a lovely change from the cold of home and the dry of Santa Fe) and I can’t wait to explore it more today! I think I’ll be taking lots of photos. We walked to a lovely restaurant (with great cocktails, incidentally) for dinner last night, and I think I made the walk almost twice as long because I kept stopping to look at everyone’s garden. I’ve never seen so many rhododendrons!

Goodbye, Santa Fe

June 6, 2009

Just a quick note to let you know that I’ll be leaving Santa Fe this afternoon, and spending the night in Albuquerque before flying to Boston.

The conference has been a great experience, as has Santa Fe itself. More updates on that later!

Astronomy and knitting make a great combination

June 4, 2009

So far the conference has been great—we’ve just finished the third day so there’s lots to catch you up on.

The first day, Monday, started well despite a few technical hiccups. My talk was at 4pm, after afternoon tea, in the last session of the day. At most Astronomy conferences (including this one) the talks are divided into sessions with a common theme—so my talk was appropriately in the Red Giants session. The session chair was my supervisor Peter, a logical choice I guess, since he is rather well known in the pulsating red giants field.

The talk itself went off fairly well, no technical difficulties for me, and due to many hours of practise I didn’t forget what I wanted to say. I even got a few sympathetic giggles out of the audience, who appreciated the exasperation of trying to solve the Long Secondary Period mystery. No one asked any of the questions I was expecting, and there were a couple I felt I couldn’t answer very well, but nobody seemed to mind. In fact, after all the talks had finished I had people coming up to me to compliment me on what a good talk it was! Someone even asked for a copy of my thesis when it was done—I had to break it to him that it would probably be at least a year in coming. But hey, feeling pretty chuffed :) And in the two days since, I’ve had several more people tell me what a good talk they thought it was. I’m so pleased all my work paid off, and I attribute most of my success to the Science Communication workshop I attended in November.

After a fortifying gin and tonic (oh sweet gin! it solves all problems) I joined Peter and Margaret for dinner with a couple of professors from Los Alamos. We went to a lovely local restaurant which had both tex-mex and southwest cuisine, and sat on the balcony overlooking the plaza. And had some very tasty margaritas, of course. I feel it’s my duty to sample a good range of margaritas while I’m here, it being the local specialty and all. I didn’t even realise until I came to Santa Fe that there are different sorts of margaritas. But some places have (apparently) up to a hundred on their menu.

On Tuesday, the conference seemed so much more relaxed—having got the talk over and done with did wonders for the nerves. I took the opportunity to read as many of the posters as I could during the coffee breaks. At conferences the people who don’t get scheduled for a talk (or who don’t want to give one) make a poster about their research, and these are usually displayed just outside the conference room, usually where the coffee and snacks are served. So many people submitted posters for this conference that they’re having two sessions of them: the first lot are up for the first half of the week, then they get taken down and the second lot are put up.

Tuesday was great as I started to meet some more people my age (other students and postdocs) from different institutions. I had lunch with three girls from Texas A&M, and we had the best time chatting and laughing, so much so that we were late for the after-lunch talk session! That evening we went out with a whole bunch of other people, and found some great mexican food and awesome margaritas. Vicky (from Liverpool) and I were particularly excited by the frozen margaritas served in pint glasses. Pints! And later on we returned to the hotel bar to test more margaritas, unfrozen this time but nonetheless good.


At one point Vicky’s glass made a bid for freedom—neither of us are quite sure how it happened, but one moment it was sitting happily at least 10cm from the edge, then the next moment, without any help from us, it had tipped a good measure of margarita into her lap and over the floor. Weak with laughter, I managed to make it to the bar for a wodge of serviettes, which alerted the barman to our plight. And ten minutes later, he brings us both a free margarita! To make up for having spilled the first one, apparently. Talk about score. After that, it was probably a good thing that our rooms were just upstairs!

Today we had only a half day of talks, as the conference tour to Los Alamos was taking place this afternoon. I was among those who decided not to go, feeling that I didn’t really need to know more about the Manhattan Project, and that in any case I’d rather explore Santa Fe a bit more. I joined Catherine, a Canadian girl doing a postdoc in Paris, for the afternoon. Catherine is a fellow knitter (we’ve both been knitting away at socks during the talks) so after grabbing some freshly cooked carnitas for lunch from a street vendor, we checked out a few yarn stores.

We went first to the Needle’s Eye where, remembering the size of my suitcase, I managed to restrain myself to small and light (but nonetheless wonderful!) buttons:


those goose ones are actually different sorts of inlaid wood—amazing.

Next we visited Oodles Yarn and Bead Gallery, where we were greeted by a friendly little dog called Harry. His equally friendly owner, the proprietor Bev, showed us a skein of Harry-hair yarn, and assured us their website would be up soon. Somehow some yarn jumped into my bag, but I’m consoling myself that it’s only two small skeins, and anyway, I can just take another carry-on piece when I fly home, right?


Anyway, it reminds me of summertime and fairy floss.

Then we had to make another trip to Tutto, because we liked it so much. Catherine bought some yarn for a jumper she’s been wanting to make, and I found some cute buttons that managed to distract me from most of the yarn—but it was hard to resist the Koigu.


Don’t they look just like lollies? It’ll be hard enough for me not to put them in my mouth, so I don’t think these will be going on any childrens’ knits.

Anyway, now I’m off for some Thai with Peter and Margaret—it’ll be nice to have a reprieve from all that Mexican!

Santa Fe

June 3, 2009

Sunday—jewel among days—was my one footloose and fancy-free day in Santa Fe. As if by some divine benevolence, the weather was beautifully sunny and balmy, so I hastened to explore this intriguing new city. Well, not perhaps hastened so much. I did have sleep to catch up on. Let’s just say I only just made it to the hotel restaurant before they stopped serving breakfast.

Full of green tea and tropical fruit (watermelon! At this time of year!), I set out on my journey of discovery. Just up the street, next to the cathedral, there were markets on in a shady, leafy park.


I managed to restrain myself to buying only a few gifts and souvenirs. There were lots of local artists, jewellers, and crafters of all sorts. This lady was carding buffalo hair, while her husband sold the knitted buffalo purses she made, along with cute creatures made of local detritus—wood, seed pods, animal bones, etc.


After leaving the markets I wandered the streets, admiring the springtime greenery and examining the adobe buildings. I found this delightful courtyard where vegetables and herbs mixed with flowers and trees, like some fantastical but functional oasis.

so green!

I came across a gelateria, and in celebration of the warm weather treated myself to a scoop of lavender and honey gelato.


(It was delicious, despite my expression in the photo above. I think I was confused by something my camera was doing.)

Of course my wanderings were not restricted to appreciation of the weather alone. Not when there is shopping to do. Santa Fe seems to have so many shops (and so many restaurants), something that results from the large number of tourists, I guess. It was fun to see all the things they sold, and imagine what I would buy if I had the luggage space (and the money). However much more interesting than the established stores was the space outside the Palace of the Governors, where native crafters were selling their creations from blankets on the ground. The prices here were more to my budget, and I also felt better about buying the wares directly from the creators as opposed to in the stores—that way I know the money’s going where it’s most deserved. More gifts and souvenirs found their way into my bag here, but somehow I avoided buying any of the turquoise jewellery that you see everywhere in Santa Fe. But I’ve been thinking about it ever since, so I might go back in my free afternoon tomorrow.

Santa Fe likes to be known as the ‘City Different’, which I guess means it has lots of international food options, lots of museums, and lots of art—both for sale and displayed everywhere you look. Not having been in many other US cities for any length of time (yet!) I can’t comment on how different it is, but it’s certainly nice. There’s a happy, relaxed vibe, and lots to see and do. Some of the most interesting sculptures I found were these fish


but there was lots more art, all around town.

Of course, a shopping trip wouldn’t be complete without visiting a yarn store. I managed to find the lovely Tutto Santa Fe just twenty minutes before their closing time. Hidden up a flight of stairs, it’s like you’ve discovered a wonderful secret.

tutto santa fe

That yellow bag on the counter at the far left of the picture contains all my purchases…but I figure I’m justified in going crazy here. I can’t buy most of these yarn brands in Australia!

This was the lovely man who helped me—unfortunately I didn’t catch his name but he was so friendly and knowledgable—and a knitter! The lady in line ahead of me was buying wool for a gorgeous baby dress and he was talking her through some of the difficult points of the pattern, and encouraging her to come back if she ran into trouble. What a darling.

tutto santa fe

I also visited Miriam’s Well to buy some Cascade Eco for my owls jumper (at last!). It too was lovely but I must have been flustered after getting lost three times, because when I finally found it I forgot to take pictures.

So it was a pretty good haul yarn-wise, although just about everything I bought was Cascade! You can see a couple of skeins of Koigu KPPPM there though…


That evening was the conference opening reception, held on a terrace in the hotel. My supervisor, Peter, and his wife turned up, and they introduced me to a few people—it was a bit intimidating going into a room full of astronomers when I didn’t know any of them! Especially feeling a bit nervous about my talk the next day. But all went well and after some authentic Italian for dinner, I put myself to bed, feeling that an impending talk demanded a good night’s sleep.


May 27, 2009

Please excuse the recent quietness—life has been a bit hectic the last couple of weeks. I’m making a trip to the USA soon (three sleeps!) and have been busy planning this, as well as organising another trip to Melbourne, trying to keep up with work, and getting over my cold.

It’s hard to believe I’m leaving so soon. I’ve been planning this trip for months and it’s always seemed so far away, and now it is suddenly upon me. It’s my first professional trip overseas—I’m going to a conference on Stellar Pulsation, something that’s very closely linked to my thesis. It will also be the first time I’ve given a talk about my research outside my home institution, which makes me kind of nervous but kind of excited! As little as a year ago the prospect of giving a talk about my research to professional Astronomers gave me the willies. But sometime in the last year that seems to have disappeared. Maybe it has something to do with the workshop on presenting I did in November? Maybe it’s that I finally feel like I’m beginning to know what I’m talking about? In any case this is a good thing, because giving talks will be a major part of my career.

In between writing my talk, organising my flights, applying for travel grants and goodness knows what else, I’ve managed to find out a little about Santa Fe (where the conference is) and am looking forward to exploring it in the limited free time I’ll have there. Finding out where the yarn shops are has of course been a priority. I’m also lucky enough to be visiting a friend in Boston as well, and I’m excited about both catching up and seeing this beautiful city. The whole trip is less than two weeks, so it’ll be a bit of a whirlwind, but I’m determined to pack as much as possible into that time—scientifically, socially, and culturally. I’ve always loved discovering new places.

With any luck, I’ll be able to post some updates of my adventures while I’m away, so stay tuned!