It’s been a big week at @realscientists, as we turned 1 year old, we reached 9000 followers, had our second bilingual tweeter, got nominated for a Shorty and ended up going to the AAAS Meeting. For our second year, we want cake.
This week, we are delighted to welcome Dr Katherine (Katie) J Mack (@AstroKatie), theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Melbourne, to Real Scientists.
Katie’s research looks for new ways to learn about the early universe and fundamental physics using astronomical observations, probing the very building blocks of nature by examining the cosmos on the largest scales. Katie describes her work as being at
” the interface between astronomy and particle physics, studying dark matter, black holes, cosmic strings, and the formation of the first galaxies in the Universe.”
Dr Mack hails from Los Angeles, being educated at Caltech and completing her PhD at Princeton University. After postdoctoral research at the University of Cambridge, Katie moved to Melbourne to pursue her research at the University of Melbourne.
As well as her research into dark matter and early cosmology, Katie is s also an active science communicator, participating in Victoria’s Scientists in Schools and Telescopes in Schools, contributing regularly to radio programs, podcasts, and public events. Dr Mack also writes, with her pieces appearing in Sky & Telescope, Time.com, and the Economist’s “Babbbage” tech blog, among others. She is active on Twitter as @AstroKatie, co-hosts a YouTube astronomy chat series called “Pint in the Sky” and blogs at “The Universe, in Theory.”
We asked Katie our usual set of questions:
1. How did you end up in science?
I think I was a born scientist — as a kid, I was always trying to figure out how things worked. I would take things apart, play with microscopes, try to understand everything. When I discovered that there were people studying things like black holes and the nature of time, I knew I wanted to do something like that. So I read a lot about it, attended public lectures, went to observing nights at the local observatory, and studied as much science and math as I could in school. I continued to work hard and work toward my goal of being a cosmologist by getting a university degree in physics and a PhD in Astrophysical Sciences. Now I’m a postdoctoral researcher, working my way toward (hopefully) getting a permanent job as a cosmologist in a university.
2. What influenced you to pursue astrophysics?
I’ve always just wanted to know how things work. If you just keep digging eventually you get to fundamental physics and cosmology. The kind of astrophysics I do is the kind related to the really Big Questions of the Universe, because I think that’s the most fascinating area to work in. I also think cosmology is the most promising area for finding new fundamental physics.
3. How did you get involved in outreach?
I think it would be hard for me NOT to talk about science at every opportunity. I really enjoy it, because science is my work and it’s what really excites and fascinates me. I love being able to share that with others. I guess I’ve been doing outreach at some level throughout my career. I’ve been doing science writing as a form of outreach since I was an undergrad, and I’ve been doing outreach online since grad school. I do it because I love it and because there’s a need for it, and I feel I have something to contribute. I also feel that as a publicly funded scientist, I have a responsibility to communicate my knowledge to the taxpayers who pay my salary!
4. You do a lot of outreach via twitter and have a huge following. Why did you choose twitter as one medium?
Twitter started out as an almost purely professional thing for me — I used it to keep up with what other physicists and astronomers were talking about, what people were saying at conferences, that kind of thing. It’s great for networking as well, and just kind of seeing what everyone is up to, in your own field and in other areas of science. Eventually I realized it could also be a great tool for outreach and for sharing my love of science with the world. And it’s a nice way to let people know what being a scientist is really like, day to day. I see it as an opportunity to be a kind of mentor or role model as well, because young people (especially young women) interested in science can look at me as a visible scientist and get an idea of whether or not science is something they want to do.
I play sports when I can, and I travel pretty much constantly. A lot of my hobbies these days involve some kind of science communication, but I really do enjoy it a lot. I do a lot of writing as well, which is sometimes a hobby. And I like to go out dancing when I can.
Please welcome Dr Katie Mack/@AstroKatie to Real Scientists!