Dr Heloise Stevance

Dr Stevance recognised by RAS

Astronomy and astrophysics

Dr Heloise Stevance, Schmidt AI in Science Fellow at the University of Oxford, has been awarded the Caroline Herschel Prize Lectureship 2024. The lectureship was established in 2018 by what is now the Herschel Society, in association with the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), to recognise and support promising women astronomers early in their careers. The lectureship is awarded for achievements in astronomy in research, instrument building, communication and/or teaching. 

Dr Stevance started her career with a focus on observational astronomy, working at the Isaac Newton Telescope during her MPhys and studying the shape of supernovae in her PhD. She then earned expertise in theoretical stellar population synthesis in Auckland working for Professor Jan Eldrige, studying the genealogy of supernovae and kilonovae. Last year, she joined Oxford as one of the first Schmidt AI Fellows, collaborating with Professor Stephen Smartt and Professor Stephen Roberts to apply machine learning techniques to time domain astronomy. She is currently developing a Virtual Research Assistant for the ATLAS sky survey, with the goal of applying the technique to the Rubin Observatory’s Large Survey of Space and Time (LSST) data. 

The tool she designed will work alongside experts to find exciting new cosmic explosions that can teach us about the origin of the elements, black hole physics and the expansion of the Universe: from stars exploding to stars being eaten by black holes. In the coming year, the start of LSST will lead to a “deluge” of data that humans alone will not be able to process in time. So, in her own words, it is ‘crucial to the future of the field to hone our relationship with AI’.

As laureate, Dr Stevance will deliver her prize lecture at the University of Bath in November and again as a RAS public lecture in London asking ‘How can AI help us find exploding stars and hungry black holes?’

‘It is an honour to be awarded the 2024 Caroline Herschel Prize, and for such an institution to recognise that the future of AI in science will rely on individuals being "fluent" in two fields to see both opportunities and pitfalls,’ she comments. ‘The decisions we make now about our adoption of AI methods will affect future generations of astronomers. I feel privileged to be given a platform to speak about this topic, as well as some of my favourite stellar explosions and hungry-hungry black holes.’

The Caroline Herschel Prize Lectureship celebrates Caroline Herschel’s memory; as the younger sister of William Herschel, she started out as his assistant, but in time became recognised as an important astronomer in her own right, was the first to be paid as such, and was awarded the RAS Gold Medal in 1828. Dr Rebecca Smethurst (Dr Becky), also from the University of Oxford, was awarded the Caroline Herschel Prize Lectureship in 2020.