10 Questions with Anna-Christina Eilers
Anna-Christina Eilers, 26, from Germany is a Ph.D. student at the Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.
She is exploring an important evolutionary phase of our universe, the so-called epoch of hydrogen re-ionization, which happened when the universe was only a few hundred thousand years old. A detailed understanding of this epoch is fundamental for comprehending the formation of the first stars and galaxies, as well as the large-scale structure of the universe.
Anna-Christina is a participant of the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting which is dedicated to the field of physics in 2016.
Enjoy the interview with Anna-Christina and get inspired:
- What inspired you to pursue a career in physics / STEM?
When I was about ten years old I went with my family to Cape Canaveral in Florida, where the American Space Agency NASA sends Space Shuttles and rockets to space. We could climb inside of one of the Space Shuttles and saw another one getting prepared for launch. That was a very exciting and inspiring experience and raised my interest in space and astronomy.
- Who are your role models?
I admire people who are passionate about their job and what they do in life and I’m impressed by people who balance their time in such a way that they have time for an interesting job, a family and hobbies.
- How did you get to where you are in your career path?
I started studying physics at the university of Göttingen. During my Bachelor’s degree I was more interested in neuroscience and biophysics than astronomy and wrote my Bachelor thesis at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization. However, after finishing my degree I took a gap year and went for an internship to the European Space Agency in the Netherlands, which was an amazing opportunity and a great experience. Afterwards, I decided to go to Heidelberg for my Master studies, because Heidelberg – having six institutes with astronomical research located here – is one of the centers of astronomy in Germany. I did my Master thesis at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and stayed there for my PhD.
- What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I really enjoyed the project I did as an intern at the European Space Agency. We were working on preparing the Gaia satellite, which flew to space in December 2013, in order to observe more than a billion stars in our Milky Way. The first measurements of this satellite are going to be released at the end of this year.
I also love the project I’m working on now during my PhD. We observe quasars with the biggest telescopes available on earth, in order to learn something about the history of our universe. These quasars enable us to look back in time for more than 12 billion years and to see the universe when it was still in its infancy.
- What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?
I am always very happy and proud of my work when my research starts “to make sense”, when a little piece of a puzzle falls into place and we get a small step closer to answering an interesting question.
- What is a “day in the life” of Anna-Christina like?
I spend most of my day reading papers, doing research by looking at quasar spectra and writing computer programs to analyze them, or meeting people to discuss science and having coffee. Roughly twice a year we are busy writing proposals to apply for observing time at the big telescopes in Chile or Hawaii. If we are lucky and get the requested time for our observations we go there for a few nights a year.
I’m also involved in the outreach work of our institute and thus from time to time I give planetarium shows to visiting groups of people or explain how to observe with our telescopes.
- What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?
I would like to help solving the big puzzle of how our universe evolved and how the beautiful structures that we are able to observe in the universe formed.
- What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?
I like to travel to interesting places, explore exotic countries, meet new people and listen to their stories. In summer I enjoy playing beach volleyball or Ultimate Frisbee and I like to go skiing in winter. I also love to listen to or play music.
- What advice do you have for other women interested in physics / STEM?
In my opinion the most important characteristics for studying physics are having patience and stamina and being curious about how the world works. If that is the case, studying physics is definitely worth it.
- In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physics research?
We already had an amazing breakthrough in physics this year, which was the detection of gravitational waves generated by the merger of two black holes. It shows how much can be achieved when theorists and experimentalists work together. The next great breakthrough could be the detection of primordial gravitational waves, generated less than a second after the Big Bang. This would be a powerful proof of the cosmological theory of inflation.
What should be done to increase the number of female profs of physics?