ANU Spaces – Naomi McClure-Griffiths

23 February 2015

Meet Naomi McClure-Griffiths, who has recently joined the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Mt Stromlo.

Naomi, what will you be doing at ANU?

I have just started as a Professor at RSAA where I’ll be continuing my work using the world’s best radio telescopes to study the structure and evolution of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.  Having just moved from CSIRO, I am particularly looking forward to working with ANU students at all levels.

What is your favourite spot on campus?

I am based up on gorgeous Mt Stromlo so I haven’t spent a lot of time on campus yet, but I have very much enjoyed running along Sullivans Creek on the weekends. 

Why do you like it?

I like the ducks!

If you were free for an afternoon, what would you do?

I would probably spend my time wandering the libraries of campus, seeking out those perfect corners for getting away from everything to focus.

We understand you’re a radio astronomer. Can you tell us what this involves?

I use radio telescopes, instead of the more traditional optical telescopes, to understand the Galaxy and the Universe.  Radio telescopes probe a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum than what we can see with our eyes, working instead at frequencies closer to things like microwaves, mobile phones, etc.  The great thing about being a radio astronomer is that you can observe during the day so you don’t have stay up all night!  We also get to use really big telescopes, like the Parkes “Dish” – they’re fun toys!

You’re also involved in planning for the Square Kilometre Array Telescope project. Can you tell us what it is and what it will do for astronomy?

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be the world’s largest radio telescope and it is being built in remote Western Australia and Southern Africa.  It’s almost easier to ask what the SKA won’t do for astronomy because that’s a shorter list!  That said, one of the SKA’s big goals is to study the period of time in the Universe’s history after the Big Bang and before the first galaxies formed.  These 500 million years or so of the Universe is known as The Dark Ages because no telescope has been able to see it.  The SKA will also perform precisions tests of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity.  In my own research area, the SKA help us to understand how the Milky Way and galaxies like it formed.

And lastly, can you tell us why you decided on a career in astronomy. What was it about the field that you liked so much?

I went into astronomy because it allowed me to apply my love of maths and physics to really big scientific questions, like ‘where are we?’ and ‘how did we get here?’ I also love that being an astronomer is a bit like being an explorer. Each time I point a telescope at something I am the first person to ever look at it and that’s pretty fun!