As a PhD candidate in the ANU Department of Materials Physics, Ash Pascale is living her childhood dream.
Growing up, Ash loved reading science fiction novels and watching countless episodes of Star Trek with her family. She particularly loved the fact that science fiction always prioritised problem-solving over violence.
The fictional character Samantha Carter, an astrophysicist and engineer from the Stargate franchise, also made a big impact on Ash.
"As a child, I was constantly surrounded by strong female scientists in science fiction media. I wanted to be just like them when I grew up," Ash says.
Now a scientist herself, Ash is pursuing her lifelong passion at ANU, conducting research into cube satellites and how water can be used as a fuel substitute for rockets launched into space.
However, the road to her PhD wasn't linear. And Samantha Carter wouldn't be the only scientist that would provide her with inspiration.
At school, Ash never liked exams. She found the time pressure overly restricting and wasn't able to fulfil her potential.
Her physics teacher Mr Benn suggested she complete a project as an alternative avenue to showcase her knowledge. Ash soon excelled in research-based projects. It was this physics teacher who set Ash on a path to pursue science beyond high school.
After Year 12, Ash made the decision to move to Canberra from her hometown of Perth and enrol in a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Engineering at ANU.
Ash felt more at home in the research environment that a university setting provided, and she went on to complete an Honours year in Engineering, an experience that consolidated her passion for science communication.
After graduating, Ash joined the team at Questacon and worked as a science communicator for a few years. Then, wanting a complete change of pace, she moved to New York and did theatre.
Returning home to Australia in 2020, Ash worked through COVID-19 as a maths tutor and data analyst. It was this experience that sparked in Ash a desire to return to studying science.
"As a result of COVID-19, science has been promoted to a lunch-break conversation. I have heard a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 in the public domain and I am determined to influence the way we think and discuss science," Ash says.
"I particularly want to improve science education in high schools so we have a better understanding of why we research things and how we can critically evaluate information."
With this renewed drive, Ash enrolled in a PhD at ANU.
As our community celebrates National Science Week, Ash reminds us of the importance of teachers, mentors and those who guide science lovers to pursue their passions, as well as the importance of giving back.
She expressed her gratitude for her PhD supervisor, Associate Professor Cormac Corr, and her department head, Professor Jodie Bradby, two individuals who have supported her to live out her dreams.
"Cormac always has time for his students and encourages us to broaden our horizons," she says.
"Jodie is a leader who always listens to people around her. I couldn't have asked for a better mentor."