Canberra is home to one of Australia’s foremost Astronomers/Physicists, Naomi McClure-Griffiths. Naomi is at the forefront of research into the Milky Way, its galaxy neighbours and much more.

Q: So tell me, how exactly has an astronomer from Atlanta end up in Canberra?

A: Well, I actually moved from Atlanta to Portland Oregon and then while I was doing my undergraduate degree at Oberlin College, I met a professor who was going on a sabbatical for one semester in Australia and I guess I caught the Australia ‘bug’ from them. I then went back to the states to do my PhD at the University of Minnesota where I really started working with telescopes.

Ever since I’ve just been moving around between the US and Australia and ended up in Canberra through my work with ANU and CSIRO.

Q: Can you tell me about your discovery of a new arm of the Milky Way galaxy? Because that sounds crazy!

A: Well it sounds crazier than it was (laughs). But basically the Milky Way is made up of pin wheel arms and I had been noticing that there was gas going out further than it should’ve, large quantities of atomic hydrogen gas. So I did a lot of observing of this weird feature, a huge feature of gas and what I did was use a lot of modelling of the sky, basically a spiral map and, well, it matched up. People confirmed it and there were several things afterwards that I won’t get into but it led to me getting the Malcolm McIntosh award.

Q: Tell me about your current work at Mount Stromlo

A:  Well, we’ve been working on a large scale survey of the large and small Magellanic Cloud (the closest galaxies to the Milky Way). Observing with the Australian Telescope with CSIRO. We do a lot of work looking at how gas forms a star, the temperature of the gas and how Galaxies cool down.

Q: Do you teach at ANU or are you there in a research capacity?

A: I do teach a bit at ANU but yeah I work with the research graduates and a lot of work with radio telescopes.

Q: Okay so big picture, where do you see Astronomy in 50 years?

A: 50 years is a long time in Astronomy. I can do about 10-20 years in Astronomy.

Q: Okay that works 10-20 years?

A: Okay well, I think we will definitely find out a lot more about planets. How they form around stars, and I can see us finding a lot more Earth like systems. I also think we will observe some of the first stars of the Universe thanks to the Square Kilometre Array (a revolutionary new telescope in the southern hemisphere).

Q: Are they still around?

A: Yeah, some of these stars are, they can get very old. We will be hopefully seeing how gas can become dense enough to form these stars, and so it’s really like discovering a part of the universe we don’t know much about. There will also be a lot of discoveries around these neighbourhoods around stars, and the red shift (stretching of wavelengths).

To see more from Naomi McClure-Griffiths check out last months the Dawn of a New Space Age which took place at the Australian Academy of Science.

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