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Amanda Bauer

Astropixie and galaxy-gazer

30 July 2009

I always harboured a deep fascination for the night sky, an obsessive enjoyment of solving riddles and puzzles, and a strong desire to travel around the world! After pursuing these activities separately for many years, I finally found the surprising and harmonising combination: attaining a PhD in Astrophysics.

I began work as a post-doctoral researcher in the Astronomy Group at the University of Nottingham one year ago. My research focuses on the formation and evolution of galaxies, each of which contains gas, billions of stars, dust, a super massive black hole (most likely), dark matter, and maybe other things that we haven’t discovered yet! There were no galaxies when the universe formed, and now we are surrounded by billions of galaxies outside our own Milky Way that have widely different appearances and evolutionary histories.

Over the last few years I’ve also started another journey of exploration - participating in various types of so-called ‘new media’ methods of public outreach and science communication. In 2006 I began blogging as ‘astropixie’, and more recently, I started participating in social networking sites like twitter and facebook. I wanted to see whether modern social techniques, that communicate information immediately across the internet, could benefit my public outreach possibilities or even my science (in addition to catching up with friends of old, of course)!

I twittered live from the UKRC conference in London earlier this year. I sent out quotes from the conference speakers as I heard them, and asked people some of the same poll questions we were asked during the day. Inspired by the responses I received on twitter, I took an unscientific poll on the astropixie blog, asking my readers their age and gender. More than half the respondents were female and the ages peaked around the twenties, but with a broad distribution that included many teenagers and even a couple of 70 year olds!

I think the results show that these new media avenues can actively reduce gender bias in sciences and engineering and increase diversity among participants. Organizations like twitter, blogs, facebook, and youtube can be used to encourage people of any background to read about and even participate in scientific discussions, and hopefully inspire diverse types of people to get more involved in science activities.

Everything culminated for me this July when – largely thanks to the profile I’ve achieved online - I was invited to China to see and film the total solar eclipse (video here). It was a fascinating experience!

If I'm able to inspire a single person to do something they want to do, regardless of the types of people who have done that thing in the past, then I feel satisfied!

Dr. Amanda Bauer is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Nottingham School of Physics and Astronomy. She is a member of the American Astronomical Society and the British Science Association. She blogs and twitters as astropixie at http://www.amandabauer.blogspot.com/ andhttp://twitter.com/astropixie.

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