Would you spend your summer working on real-world astronomy and astrophysics problems? We spoke with four students who did just that.

What did you do on your summer vacation this year? While you hit the beach, chilled in front of the tele or visited relos, our vacation students were hard at work.

Every summer, we run undergraduate vacation programs where students work with our top researchers in some of our world-class facilities. This past summer, 14 vacation students joined us who all had an interest in astronomy and space.

Two vacation students standing with a CSIRO person all looking at a whiteboard
As part of our undergraduate vacation program, students work with our top researchers.

Your summer optics

Sarah Bradbury is a vacation student who joined us in Sydney from Brisbane. She said it was a unique chance to collaborate with other students who are all passionate about the same thing – astronomy and space!

“One of my favourite parts of the experience was meeting the other students and discussing our projects together,” Sarah said.

“Each project was unique and the students came from a diverse range of academic backgrounds. This provided endless opportunity to learn from one another.

“The experience helped us learn how a professional workplace operates. Meeting the researchers was valuable because they helped us understand our possible career trajectories. You can’t be what you can’t see!”

A highlight for many students was the opportunity to observe with our Australia Telescope Compact Array.

“We had the freedom to observe anything that interested us. So we chose to observe the new James Webb Space Telescope on its journey through space, a planet from outside our Solar System (an exoplanet), twinkling galaxies (active galactic nuclei), and our own Moon. We also tracked space debris and observed a rapidly rotating neutron star (a pulsar),” she said.

Vacation student group photo
It’s a sought-after opportunity to be a vacation student with us.
(Back row): Lan Tran, Dante Burn, Andrew Zic, Sarah Bradbury, Louisa Canepa, Tash Moy (Bottom row): Clara Barnes, Ryan Krensel, Andrew Murphy, Jia Wei Teh, Beth Cappellazzo.

Adding to the knowledge base

On top of their valuable experiences, students had the chance to add to scientific knowledge with their own projects. For example, Robert Lee had his finger on the pulse with his project.

“I’m working on a project that looks at improving the detection rate of radio transients,” Robert said.

“One of the hottest topics in astronomy right now is fast radio bursts. These are very short, bright bursts of radio emission. We’re still not sure what causes these pulses or where they come from. They may be key to understanding explosive astrophysical phenomena as well as the environments surrounding them. The aim of my project was to explore a new way of detecting these signals. This will hopefully lead to even more detections.

“I am constantly awed by the depth of knowledge of the researchers at CSIRO. I’ve enjoyed engaging with fellow students, postdocs, and staff,” he said.

Three vacation student participants seated at computers in an office space wearing face masks
Tamsyn O’Beirne, Robert Lee and Bernise Roelofse in Perth. They worked closely together on their projects.

Using old material to better understand

Vacation student Bernise Roelofse’s project looked at very, very old material.

“My project involved using specialised software to reduce and image quasars (massive and remote celestial object) that existed during one of the earliest times of the Universe. The software can turn raw data from a radio telescope into an image,” Bernise said.

“I enjoyed the depth and hands-on work I’ve been able to do during the vacation program. It has been such a journey. I also feel like my skills have developed in areas other than research and coding like public speaking, communication and time management.”

And, Tamsyn O’Beirne’s project was called ‘the HI Kinematics of Ring Galaxies.’ Sounds impressive? Wait until you hear Tamsyn talk about it.

“I used a type of software called MIRIAD to produce images of the neutral hydrogen gas in several ring-shaped galaxies, where the galaxy’s gas and stars sit in a ring instead of the more common spiral shape,” Tamsyn said.

“Then I looked at how our ring galaxies compared to other galaxies. It has been eye-opening to see what is actually involved in producing the pretty astronomical pictures from raw data.

“The whole experience has been incredible. I’ve got to talk to so many intelligent people at CSIRO and see where my future could lead me,” she said.


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