University of Minnesota
I went through many changes of mind before I decided to be a scientist. When I was younger I thought I might be a ballet dancer, a writer, or an artist. After I graduated from high school I actually did briefly become a ballet dancer but it was clear that it wasn’t the path for me, and after a couple years I left to find another path. Figuring out what that path should be wasn’t easy! I was in and out of more than one university and worked lots of odd jobs on my meandering journey.
But when I started studying physics at San Francisco State University, I found the subject to be thought-provoking and challenging. What’s more, I met lots of interesting, quirky people with whom I connected – in fact, some of my closest friends are from those days. Being totally drawn in, I opted for grad school, and I got my PhD in December 2012 from the University of California at Berkeley. I stayed at Berkeley for three years after I graduated, and then I moved back to Minnesota to start a faculty position at the University of Minnesota.
As an astrophysicist I have several roles: I analyze data, I build experiments, and I mentor and teach students. I analyze data by making X-ray images of the Sun to try and figure out how charged particles get accelerated to incredibly high velocities in solar flares. The experiments I build are put on rockets for short flights into space to test out technology for future solar-observing satellites. We’ve flown two of these rockets from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, and are hard at work on another one. Though the flights are only a few minutes, they allow us to test new technologies and get brief glimpses of the high energy Sun!
I get to work with a lot of students, both in the classroom, where I teach introductory physics courses, and in the laboratory, as we build experiments. I really like that aspect of this work, as I get asked some fantastic questions that often force me to think about concepts in a new light. When I'm not at work I love spending time outdoors and I enjoy hiking, backpacking, and cycling. And I still love going to the ballet!