Women in Physics

Last week I had the opportunity to talk at the inaugural all girl science club meeting at Footscray City College about being a scientist, and in particular about being a female physicist.

The club is named after the famed Marie Curie, winner of two Nobel Prizes for her amazing research on Radioactivity. Around 25 students turned up for the first Marie Curie club meeting and it was wonderful to see such a huge interest in the sciences.

The Marie Curie Science Club

The Marie Curie Science Club

Given that their namesake is such a famed and well known Physicist, I was also keen to introduce them to  Marie and a few more amazing women who in various ways had contributed greatly to Science. With such huge number to choose from and only a limited amount of time, I chose to speak about the following wonderful Scientists;

Marie Curie, first woman to win a Nobel Prize for her work on Radioactivity

Ruby Payne-Scott, born in Australia and first person to detect the Sun through radio waves and responsible for identifying many solar characteristics. She was the third female to graduate in Physics at the University of Sydney.

Jocelyn Bell, discovered Pulsars during her PhD.

Fabiola Gianotti, team leader of 3000 members responsible for discovering the Higgs Boson, nominated for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2012

During my research of these women, it was very clear that they are all extremely well respected for their research, their science and the manner in which they conducted their work by their male colleagues. For Marie Curie, whose career peaked at the beginning of the 20th Century, I found it amazing that she seemed to have no problem reaching high posts in her academic career and was able to continue her work after having her children. 50 years later, Ruby Payne-Scott was being forced into retirement at the age of 39 for the simple reason she had gotten married and was no longer entitled to her benefits or a pension. Ruby was quite an activist for female rights and not surprising with so many rules just because she was female! Then 20 years further on, Jocelyn was discovering Pulsars during her PhD. This work was awarded a Nobel Prize of which Jocelyn’s supervisor was the recipient, not Jocelyn. There is still to this day an uproar about this ‘oversight’ and it certainly changed the view of many about the contributions students make and that they are just as worthy to be a recipient of such recognition. Thankfully, reading Fabiola’s bio told a story of respect and recognition from not only the Science community but the wider community as well.

I think everyone in Science has these women and so many others to thank for setting precedents, activating for women and student’s rights, for demonstrating that women have so much to contribute and for paving the way for so many more careers for women in Science.

For many more women in Science try this website. Let me know who your favourite woman in Science is and why.

My message to the girls at the science club meeting was that it definitely appears to be easier these days to be a female scientist and that as females we have many qualities to bring to the field of science. Science is fun, an exciting field to be in as it evolves constantly with each new discovery and allows us to contribute to the world in so many ways. It was a great pleasure to talk with the girls and I look forward to seeing them at the Astronomy nights and hearing about their other scientific pursuits.

Astro Training II

Last Tuesday night we had another session of training with the TiS volunteers. The skies were clear, the night was warm and obviously the previous week was such a hit, everyone wanted to come along, so the crowd expanded somewhat. We were also joined by a couple of newcomers to the program and I am sure you will hear much about them over the coming year.

A local Year 6 student Dian and her mum who heard about the program through Shane were eager to come along as well, see some stars and take some photos. They turned up just as we were setting up the telescope. Introductions were done and we were up and running.

While the students set up the telescope and got to know each other, we waited for the cricketers to finish up and the stars to come out. Vikram also worked out which stars we would use for the alignment- Aldebaran and Castor. Now Aldebaran is an old favourite and one we use quite regularly as it is bright star in the Northern sky, at the moment just above Jupiter. The other star, I had independently read about as one of the 12 cool things to look at during a Star Party. Here is that blog post if you want to know what the rest were. Turns out the star, Castor, is actually a triple star system and each one of those stars is actually a binary system – so there are in fact 6 stars in this system! We will definitely be heading back to Castor for a closer look next time. You can find Castor in the Gemini constellation. Here is another article for 10 things you can see during the day too.

After the alignment, we went to Jupiter. The 40mm eyepiece was still in, as was the focal reducer, so we were looking at Jupiter with the widest field of view. We saw all 4 Galilean moons and while there was some question initially as to whether they were really seeing the colours, greater appreciation was expressed when everyone realized those spectacular bands of orange and brown were real. Everyone immediately want to ‘make it bigger’. Which was exactly what we did with stunning results and much oohing and aahing.

TiS trainees gathered around the telescope taking photos

TiS trainees gathered around the telescope taking photos

Next, demands for Orion were uttered and we headed to the Great Orion Nebula. Thankfully it lived up to everyone’s expectations and more delighted comments were expressed. It was then time to take some images. Olia, had her camera again and quickly hooked up and started focusing and snapping away like an old pro!

Great Orion Nebula taken by Olia Borzyak

Great Orion Nebula taken by Olia Borzyak

Dian also connected her mum’s camera up to the telescope and took some photos of the Orion Nebula to add to the photos she had taken on her own camera to take home.

Lastly we had a look at Omega Centauri which is a globular cluster. Difficult conditions as we were looking close to street lights, meant that the number of stars in this cluster was quite diminished, and yet we were speechless at the number of stars we did see! More photos taken by Olia;

For the Orion nebula shot I used a 25 second exposure and a 600 iso. This made the colours of the nebula come out without disrupting the contrast too much. For the star cluster, the shutter speed was a bit less, 10 seconds, with an ISO of 600 too. These are my first real photos of space and I am extremely excited to take more in the future! Had a great night observing on Tuesday, never done anything like it before. PS- Jupiter made an appearance on my camera too that night!

There has been a little amount of manipulation done with the images to bring out more colour and we will investigate this in the website soon. Unfortunately there was a lot of atmospheric turbulence due to the heat when looking at Jupiter and the photos taken using the DSLR could not capture the planet well enough to do it justice.

Omega Centauri taken by Olia Borzyak

Omega Centauri taken by Olia Borzyak

Another sensational night of viewing, getting to know each other and learning the finer points of the telescope. I also noticed a few of the Volunteers trying out their explanations on Dian, much to her delight and education! Dian was last to leave, and would have stayed except we turned the telescope off. So I will leave you with a quote from Dian’s mum about their ride home;

Dian said three times on the way home.  ‘They were all really nice people Mum.’  We only live in North Melbourne!

 

Thanks to you both for sharing part of the universe!

I agree, they are really nice people and I am going to enjoy working with them over the coming year and I know the schools will too.

Solar Training

Last week we took full advantage of this heat wave Melbourne is currently experiencing and did quite a bit of observing in the daytime.

First up on Monday, Vikram and I went down to Bellarine Secondary College in Ocean Grove, first to train the teachers on setting up the telescope for Solar observing and then to give the students at the Ocean Grove campus their first look at and through the telescope. With crystal clear skies and the Sun warming us up quickly, we set up near some shade next to the oval. We had the additional sight of the daytime Moon out as well. While we were taking some photos and waiting for Recess to start, Ethan came by, had a look at the Moon and then took some photos for us. I asked Ethan for a quote, “Awesome” was the succinct but highly apt description he gave me. Ethan was obviously very keen as he came back at recess and then managed to swing past again between classes. Looking forward to seeing you at the evening sessions!

Ethan taking a photo of the Moon

Ethan taking a photo of the Moon

Daytime Moon shot taken by Ethan Newnham on 4/3/2013

Daytime Moon shot taken by Ethan Newnham on 4/3/2013

Image of the Sun taken at Ocean Grove on 4/3/2012

Image of the Sun taken at Ocean Grove on 4/3/2013

During recess, much of the school came along to see what was going on, what that big thing was and what were we looking at. Many students were surprised the Moon was out during the day and when we looked back at the Sun, everyone was surprised those tiny spots on the Sun were around about the same size as the Earth!

After recess we had one Year 8 Science class looking at the Moon through a Moon filter, then they got to view the Sun. They were asked to draw in the Sunspots for that day and answer some questions about the Sunspots. By 11:30, the heat had really increased, so we decided to restrict ourselves to the shade and focussed on the Moon. The next class of Year 8 Science students were fascinated by the shimmering of the Moon caused by the heated atmosphere, especially as the Moon moved closer to the horizon.

We found out some interesting things about Sunspots too. They are caused by magnetic disturbances on the surface of the Sun and increase and decrease with a cycle of 11 years. This year is supposed to be a maximum in the cycle, but we are seeing only a very small number. For more info on why this is happening, start with this link.

On Wednesday, I held a training session for all the new and old volunteers for the program. We took the last telescope out of it’s box and put it together from scratch. Everyone got the opportunity to look at each component and have a good play with the telescope.

The telescope being set up by the Astro group members

The telescope being set up by the Astro group members

We then set up outside the Physics building at the University of Melbourne to do some Solar observing. We got the chance to run through the alignment process and how to use the remote and focus. We also used a couple of different methods to take some images of the Sun.

Sun and Sunspots taken on 6/3/2013

Sun and Sunspots taken on 6/3/2013

Solar observing is all very well, but the Volunteers were keen to see what was in the night sky as well, especially as Comet PANSTARRS was in the South Western sky just after sunset. So we took the telescope out that night as well! Pizza was ordered and devoured, the telescope was set up and we were up and running.

Astro Students aligning the telescope

Astro Students aligning the telescope

Some sensational map reading and determination from Katie saw the telescope trained on the Comet. A fuzzy ball of light with a tail, undeniably a comet. Unfortunately, to the South of us was the University, then Melbourne City, so the ambient light was to say the least, getting in our way. Add that with the stadium lights over the hockey field, one of which was right next to our view of the comet, it was lucky we saw anything at all! Unfortunately clouds came in before we had the chance to take a decent image. Now is the time to start looking for Comet Lemmon which has quite good viewing in the South Western sky

Resolved Alpha Centauri taken by Craig Burnett

Resolved Alpha Centauri taken by Craig Burnett

Next we had a look at the binary system of Alpha Centauri (or Rigel Kent) one of the pointers to the Southern Cross. We were easily able to resolve the two stars and Craig took this photo with my instant camera – which never fails! Lastly we turned the telescope to the Jewel Box cluster and the photographers took over. Olia took this image of the cluster and you can see the brilliant colours of the stars. Such a sensational night, we are doing it again this week. I look forward to showing you the images as we hopefully get a chance to look towards the North were there is much less light pollution (comparatively anyway).

Jewel Box Cluster taken by Olia Borzyak

Jewel Box Cluster taken by Olia Borzyak

Lastly on Friday, I headed out to Suzanne Cory HS in Werribee to do some solar observing with a Year 10 Science class. Unfortunately, that morning the clouds had finally won and our clear skies had disappeared. We set up regardless and when there was a break in the clouds, the students raced out to have a look. Patience was required as the clouds slowly broke up and passed in and out of our view. The clouds did give us a very eerie view of the Sun and the Sunspots also made an appearance. The clouds were kind enough to give everyone at least a glimpse of the Sunspots and they did get the last laugh. The moment I had finished packing up and was signing out, the clouds disappeared!!! Hoping to try again this Friday and given the variety of weather predicted for the end of this week, who knows what we will get. I guess I will fill you in on what happened next week.

Hope you enjoyed looking at all of our pictures as much as we enjoyed taking them!