NASA image
Image taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope revisits the Veil Nebula
Credit: NASA

Big questions in astronomy!

08Jul
Secondary school events
Time
Venue
Online
Knowledge of physics?
No, knowledge of physics not required

Big questions in astronomy; women in astronomy panel discussion

This is an invite-only event. 

Learn about the exciting and important contributions of women to the big questions in astronomy, past and present.

Big questions: How are today’s researchers tackling the big questions such as the nature of dark matter, the search for exoplanets, or galaxy evolution? How will this change our understanding of the Universe and our place in it?

Students will be invited to submit their own questions to the panel in advance of the session with further opportunities to ask questions during the session.

The panel: This panel discussion will include women researchers involved in exciting areas of astronomy today along with a curator from the History of Science Museum with objects and stories from the past.

Each panelist will give a short presentation on what they believe will be the key questions in the future of astronomical research followed by Q&A. 

  • Prof Suzanne Aigrain
  • Dr Aprajita Verma
  • Dr Rebecca Bowler
  • Dr Katy Clough

More information about the panelists at the bottom of the page.

Audience: This event is an invite-only event and is aimed at girls at GCSE level who might be interested in studying physics or astronomy at university, research, or developing their general interest in science. Attendance should be via a classroom link with a teacher in supervision.

Booking and enquiries: This is an invite-only event for local schools. Please contact the History of Science Museum if you have any questions: learning@hsm.ox.ac.uk

Dr Aprajita Verma

Dr Aprajita Verma, Senior Researcher

What is your area of research? And why do you find it interesting? Galaxies of all ages, shapes and sizes, and the nature of matter in the Universe. Galaxies containing billons of stars are fascinating sites to do astrophysics. There's a huge variety oof galaxies seen across all cosmic time. There's so much to learn about how they first formed and ended up being like galaxies we see in the local Universe. 

What is the biggest unanswered question in your field? So many....may not be the biggest: How did the first stars and galaxies form and the nature of early Universe. What is the nature of Dark Matter and its influence on the Universe.

Who is your favourite female astronomer from the past and why? Not past, but current: Jocelyn Bell Burnell is not only an outstanding scientist, but her persistence, determination and love of Physics are inspiring. On top of all her achievements, she is generous, kind and committed to make science equitable and diverse. Jocelyn is a true role model in every respect.

What do you like to do outside of work? Spending time with my family, being outdoors and dabbling in some art & crafts.

Prof Suzanne Aigrain

Suzanne Aigrain, Professor of Astrophysics

What is your area of research? And why do you find it interesting? I work on exoplanets, that is planets which orbit other stars than the Sun. I find them fascinating because they are both very familiar and relevant – we live on a planet, after all – and very exotic: many of the exoplanets discovered in the last quarter-century are completely unlike the Earth, or indeed any of the Solar System planets. Searching for and studying exoplanets allows me to be part of a great exploratory endeavour, but also helps put our own planet in its cosmic context. I also like the technical challenge: looking for planets involves searching for tiny signals buried in large, noisy datasets – and finding clever ways of doing that is fun.

What is the biggest unanswered question in your field? Is there life elsewhere in the Universe? We might just find out during my lifetime, and every time I have that thought I do a double-take. How amazing!

 Who is your favourite female astronomer from the past and why? That’s a tough question, there are so many good choices! I was tempted to pick Henrietta Swan Leavitt, because her work on variable stars echoes with my own interests, and because she was the first early female astronomer I heard of when I was a graduate student. Caroline Herschel is also one of my favourites, because of systematic, meticulous approach to surveying the skies, and her dogged perseverance – she’s the prototypical observational astronomer, irrespective of gender. I remember visiting the house she shared with her brother William in Bath and seeing a letter she wrote to him with the words “last night I popped upon a comet” – that really made me feel connected to her, as I occasionally “pop upon” a planet or two... But actually, I’d like to mention someone a little less well known, who was a contemporary of hers: Louise du Pierry (1746-1807). She was the first female professor at the Sorbonne and taught classes in astronomy specifically aimed at women, as well as publishing a number of original research works of her own. She played a key role in convincing the great astronomical and mathematical minds of her time that women were just as capable of learning, and making useful contributions to, science as their male counterparts.

What do you like to do outside of work? Enjoying the great outdoors, particularly mountains, with my family and friends, and cooking and reading.

Dr Rebecca Bowler

Dr Rebecca Bowler, Senior Researcher

What is your area of research? And why do you find it interesting? I research a part of the history of the Universe called 'cosmic dawn', the period when the first stars and galaxies were forming.  The most interesting part of this work is that I get to discover new galaxies.

What is the biggest unanswered question in your field? When did the first star form after the Big Bang?

Who is your favourite female astronomer from the past and why? Vera Rubin. She discovered evidence for dark matter in observations of galaxy rotation, and now has a telescope named after her.

What do you like to do outside of work? I love cycling, so usually on a day off you will find exploring Oxfordshire on my bike.