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Studying the evolution of galaxies

17 November 2016
This PhD student studies how galaxies evolve over time

Jessica Bloom, PhD candidate in the School of Physics, tells us that when researching galaxies, disturbed things come in small packages.

What happens when galaxies crash into each other? How do galaxies evolve over cosmic time? How can we harness exciting Australian-led technological innovation to look at the universe in radical, new ways? As part of my PhD research within the School of Physics, I have been working on answering these questions.

I am a part of the SAMI Galaxy Survey team, and I specialise in examining the movement of star-forming gas in nearby galaxies, particularly when those galaxies are undergoing drastic changes, as is the case in a merger.

As a PhD student, I get to have a crack at answering some of the biggest questions out there
Jessica Bloom
Merging galaxies

Merging galaxies, captured as part of the SDSS survey

The SAMI (Sydney-AAO Multi-Object Integral Field Unit) instrument is a revolutionary spectrograph on the Anglo-Australian Telescope, which is a large optical telescope out in Coonabarabran, the "astronomy capital of Australia". Specially designed groups of fibres are used to image the surfaces of large numbers of galaxies at once, giving us the opportunity to explore the statistics of how galaxies evolve. One of the best parts of this field is that it is relatively new - only recently has the technology we use to do this been available. This means that, as a PhD student, I get to have a crack at answering some of the biggest questions out there!

I have discovered that while small, low-mass galaxies may be less bright and showy than their monster counterparts, they are some of the most dynamic, fascinating parts of the nearby universe. The gas in these galaxies is constantly boiling and changing, like turbulent water, making them ideal laboratories to study how gas influences galaxy evolution.

My work has also allowed me to travel extensively, from conferences in Tuscany (with wine!) to Uluru, where I enjoyed two stints as Astronomer in Residence. I love talking to the public, not just about my research but science in general, and all the fascinating things we are discovering about the world. And in my spare time, I work as a fire spinner, hula hooper and contortionist, so there's always something different to do!

On Sunday 20 November, I will be a part of the Science Says! show at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. It's a quiz show, like QI, and I'm looking forward to finding out what I don't know! I'm hoping they toss in a few questions about galaxies – meanwhile, I'll be madly revising my chemistry knowledge!


Follow Jessica on Twitter

Large header image credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team