PhD candidate, 2008
What is your thesis topic / field of interest?
I'm interested in extrasolar planets, which are planets that orbit other stars in our Galaxy. The first of these was discovered in 1995, but since then there has been intense interest in finding more, and now over 300 are known. For my thesis we have been focused on finding a special class of extrasolar planets, called transiting planets, which eclipse their host stars. We can determine the mass and radius of these planets, which gives us clues as to what they are made of and how they formed.
Where have you come from to do this program?
I did my BSc(Hons) in Wellington, New Zealand. I travelled over the Tasman for a few months as part of ANU Summer Scholar program, and after that I decided that I wanted to undertake my PhD at ANU.
What experience have you gained while studying at Mt Stromlo?
Although there are no longer research telescopes on Mt Stromlo, ANU owns telescopes at Siding Spring Observatory in northern NSW. I have been lucky enough to spend a considerable amount of time operating these telescopes, which was fantastic hands-on experience.
What do you see yourself doing upon completion of your PhD?
Research on extrasolar planets is a very young field, and there are still lots of mysteries that need solving. I would like to continue discovering and characterising extrasolar planets. In the next decade technological advances will allow us to detect smaller and smaller planets, with the ultimate goal being the detection of Earth-like planets.
What has been the highlight of the program?
The highlight of my PhD research was going to Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, which is located in the high, dry, Atacama desert. Using one of the most advanced telescopes in the world, we obtained data that helped us detect a planet orbiting a star thousands of light-years away. It was exciting to analyse the data as it came off the telescope and to work in such a remote, scenic location.
Why would you recommend Mt Stromlo to others?
Mt Stromlo is a very exciting place to be a PhD student. The academic staff are leading the world in many areas of research, while telescopes, instruments and astronomy software are all being developed on-site. There is always a steady stream of visitors from overseas institutions, so it has a very international feel to it.
What are the benefits of life in Canberra?
Moving to Canberra was very easy, with accommodation reasonably priced and easy to find. Coming from New Zealand, the first thing I noticed about Canberra was the very dry, sunny climate. This makes Canberra a very comfortable place to live and fantastic for outdoor activities. Most days I ride my bike to work, and I think I must have one of the most scenic commuting rides around!