I was interested in astronomy from a young age. Some of my earliest memories are from going for walks in the evening with my father, who was an avid amateur astronomer. He would point out planets and constellations and explain how the Earth’s rotation and orbit are the result of gravity.
Like many, when I decided to take on a PhD, I was unsure where it could or where I wanted it to take me. I just knew I was interested in gravitational waves so studying them sounded good to me (for a few years at least). My first exposure to the concept of gravitational waves came in 2006, when it was listed on the topic list for the research component of my third-year undergraduate physics course.
I was intrigued and spent the next semester teaching myself general relativity (which was not formerly taught at my university until honours level) to unpack Einstein’s field equations. I learnt about the types of various detectors around the world and found out about LIGO. Although the prospect of detecting gravitational waves seemed onerous and still a long way off, the idea of an entirely new observational window on the Universe really inspired me and I wanted to be a part of it.
During my PhD, I developed a data analysis pipeline to search for a continuous signal from neutron stars in Low Mass X-Ray Binary systems. I continued to write and run search pipelines as a postdoc at Monash University, searching for the stochastic gravitational wave background. Developing and testing analysis code and scripts in different computer languages, as well as installing and maintaining software packages on various operating systems, provided me with a desirable skill set in the field of Scientific Computing.
It was a busy and exciting time with many new detections coming in and OzGrav coming together and gaining momentum. I enjoyed my involvement with LIGO and was excited by the prospects of OzGrav, however I was also feeling ready to try something new. There was an opportunity for a Senior Scientific Software Engineer at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), which runs the Australian synchrotron facility. This job would allow me to combine my passion for science and my experience in computer programming and software development to facilitate leading edge science for the benefit of the broader community.
As part of the Scientific Computing team at the Australian Synchrotron, I am responsible for designing and developing the software solutions for the operational and scientific outcomes of the facility. A synchrotron is a light-source that generates extremely bright light by accelerating electrons to almost the speed of light and deflecting using magnetic fields. At each deflection, very intense light is emitted which is a million times brighter than the sun.
The scientific research and innovation output of the Synchrotron span hugely diverse fields—from medicine to cultural heritage—and the many specialised ‘beamlines’ or experiments make my work interesting and varied. The systems developed and maintained within Scientific Computing range from communicating and moving technical hardware (motor, mirrors, cameras, etc.), to enabling facility users to access and analyse their data.
And for the multitude of problems, there are usually a multitude of possible solutions. My job involves staying up-to-date with and on top of the ever- changing and advancing programming tools and software engineering. This means I am constantly learning and applying new tools and technologies, often working on multiple projects at once.
Being part of a team also means there is lots of collaboration, usually involving multidisciplinary groups. This teamwork and collaboration is something I really enjoy, and am happy to be able to continue after the collaborative experience of being part of both LIGO and OzGrav.
Originally featured in LIGO magazine.