Australian Science Olympiad dissects dark matter and supernovas in the universe

The sky, in its deepest recesses  holds the answers to some of the baffling questions of the universe and its creation.  A former Australian Science Olympiad is using her talent to attempt to solve a portion of that great mystery.

For some of us, the fiery craving to search answers to fundamental questions can catapult the commencement of an exciting career in science.

Bonnie Zhang shares this specific curiosity, so when the opportunity for more learning arose, she grabbed the chance to compete in the Australian Science Olympiads.

Training like an athlete, though the competition was intellectual, Zhang  after rigid exams in their Summer School, ultimately made it into the physics team.

So great was Zhang’s delight in the Olympiads she was selected as tutor in the program and served seven years as mentor. She now, is deputy director of the Australian Science Olympiads physics program.

Zhang took another step further in her science interest at the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, she concluded a PhB, a science degree focus on research uniquely ANU, major in astronomy, maths and physics.

Zhang then focused her aim on a summer research scholarship at ANU, and found her research channel, when she assisted in the study of galactic dynamics and dark matter.

During her third year, she met Professor Brian Schmidt, a Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist based at Mt Stromlo, and worked as an intern SkyMapper.

Referring to the state-of-the-art, automated wide-field survey telescope sited at Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran in central NSW,  “I signed up and got to dip my toes into cosmology; the study of the universe as a whole,” Zhang says.

At the conclusion of her studies, she was ready to probe deeper into the mysterious stars. Now, a second year PhD research project under the helm Professor Schmidt, she is trying to shed some light on the secrets of dark energy, the theoretical force accountable for the universe expansion.

Currently, she analyzes images of supernova, those immense explosions that occur in large dying stars.

Speedy advances in technology allow the most exact details  of the skies to date, and this means there is a need for more people on the field.

Says Zhang, “Science needs people to operate and maintain scientific instruments, and develop software. There’s a greater need for engineers in the field now, definitely.”



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