Searching for the Oldest Stars: Anna Frebel

PhD ‘06

Anna Frebel is a Professor of Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and works as an astronomer. Anna's work involves searching for the oldest stars in the universe to learn about how stars and galaxies first formed soon after the big bang. She is also the author of Searching for the Oldest Stars: Ancient Relics from the Early Universe.

Anna received her PhD in 2007 from the Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics (RSAA) at Mt Stromlo Observatory, fulfilling a childhood ambition to work on stars. Anna was also interested in nuclear physics and the chemical elements so the opportunity to study at Mt Stromlo was the best of all worlds. Anna says:

"That kind of work just happened to combine all my interests in a perfect way. It was the chance of a lifetime as I instantly knew that old stars are 'my thing'; kind of like finding your soul mate."

Anna is also a single parent to a well-travelled two-year-old son. They have visited ANU and Canberra twice, where Anna still collaborates with several people at RSAA. Anna says:

"I've never really cut my ties with RSAA. I gave a public talk on campus in 2015, with my infant son strapped to my chest. It was a great atmosphere and several children in the audience asked really good questions afterwards. It really was a family event which made me feel really welcome."

Anna loved her time at Mt Stromlo and the sense of community she found there. As a non-Aussie, she liked seeing kangaroos almost every evening when leaving the mountain and recalls the picturesque views from Mt Stromlo at sunset. Anna also loved the regular parties and get-togethers with other RSAA students. She recalls:

"One tradition another student and I started that is still going is the annual Stromlo student cocktail dress-up party. Seeing everyone cleaned up real nice once a year was always good fun, and the tradition keeps living on!"

Anna attributes much of her career success to the work she did on old stars that she found at RSAA:

"Only very few places in the world were doing this type of work back in the early 2000s, so I had come to the right place without knowing."

While Anna came to Stromlo to do science, she says her education gave her so much more:

"I encountered many wonderful people there, most of all my advisor with whom I'm still in regular contact. We talk about life, the universe and everything; in the most literal sense. These days I try to promote the same kind of values of working and exploring together and encouraging open dialogue in my own research group."  

Anna is a great believer that science needs to be communicated to other people: non-scientists and scientists from other areas. Her advice to students is: "turn you project into a good story and people will listen! There is always a story to tell even when it sometimes doesn't feel like it."

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