Dr Becky Interview
Student Voice journalist got an opportunity to ask Dr Becky a few questions about her journey in the world of astronomy. Dr Becky is an astrophysicist researching how supermassive black holes interact with galaxies to drive the evolution of the Universe.
What is the most exciting day for you in your job?
The most exciting days are the days you get to talk about new results with other scientists. Usually, this is at conferences around the world - I’ve got to go to Mexico, Hawaii and Australia to do just that!
You talk about how large black holes can be, how small can they get?
The answer to this depends if you’re talking about mass or size. The smallest size black hole we’ve ever found is only 24 km (~15 miles) across but it weighs in at 4 times the mass of the Sun! In terms of the smallest by mass, there’s technically no limit, you just have to put enough matter in a small enough space so that the gravity is so strong light can’t escape. In fact, people have even hypothesised that you could get micro-black holes (or quantum-black holes) in the early Universe.
What kind of experience would someone need to do your role?
To become a research scientist, you need to go to university and get a 4 year Masters degree and then do research for 3-4 years towards a PhD thesis (i.e. become a doctor, but not a medical doctor, like Ross in Friends!).
What challenges do female scientists face, if any?
I personally have never had any negative experiences as a woman in science. However, the usual social barriers that women face every day unfortunately still exist in science.
In your opinion what is the biggest question that science hasn’t answered?
The problem of dark matter and dark energy. We still don’t know what they are or what they’re made of, yet together they make up 95% of the total mass of the Universe.
If you could invite 3 people to a dinner party, who would it be?
I would have the eclectic mix of Marie Curie, Taylor Swift and Brian May.
Who inspired you to be an astrophysicist and what are your thoughts about Brian Cox?
I think by asking questions that my parents didn’t know the answers to, I inspired myself to become an astrophysicist. So that I could not only know those answers but also find the answers to questions that no-one had thought to ask yet. I think Brian is great. He presents science at a level that’s perfect for a BBC family audience in an engaging way. He’s inspired countless numbers of people across the world, which will echo throughout the next few generations.
Do you wish to see more astronomy in the science curriculum?
YES. I thought physics was boring in Year 9 - forces, light travels in straight lines etc. But by the time I got to my GCSEs and we started studying astronomy, nuclear fusion and radioactivity I found that I loved it. Astronomy really captures people’s interest in physics and encourages kids to think about the world beyond what they see everyday. I think it’s important to get kids to start thinking about our place in the Universe from an early age.
And finally, what is your star sign, lol?
I’m a Taurus because I’m born in mid-May. Star signs refer to the constellation which the Sun was in on the day you were born. Thing is, the dates of the “star signs” were fixed 2,000 years ago and now they’re pretty inaccurate for people born these days because the Earth has wobbled a bit since then. So I’m actually only just a Taurus. You can check what your star sign actually is here (not that it really means anything): http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zp4fvcw
To further explore the fascinating field of astronomy, follow Dr Becky on Twitter and subscribe to her channel on Youtube
If you're interested in contributing to mapping the universe or want to know more about astronomy, check out Galaxy Zoo