The Journey Of An Astronomy Academic Into The STEM Field

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The South African Astronomical Observatory has been home to astronomers, astrophysicists, and scientists for over 200 years. It is also helped many students and learners spark an interest in the science field of astronomy.


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According to seasoned infrared astronomer and scientific historian, Ian Glass, South African astronomy remains at the forefront of many initiatives and discoveries. 

In 2021, two giant radio galaxies were found through the MeerKAT Telescope, this discovery was made by Dr. Jacinta Delhazie, Ian Haywood in Oxford, Matt Presscot from UWC. 

“This is exciting because it’s been hard to make such discoveries due to limitations on normal telescopes of the past, the MeerKAT Telescope is the first to discover this faint light that has been seen in these giant radio galaxies but also as vastly distributed across the sky,” said Dr. Jacinta Delhazie.

Western Australian born astronomer, Delhazie is a lecturer at the University of Cape Town, currently teaching a third year undergraduate 'Galactic and Extragalactic Astronomy' course.

In an interview with Careers Portal, the academic said that she was interested in astronomy, space and science at a very young age.

It is for this reason that she chose to undertake Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Chemistry as her core subjects when she was in high school.

“I realised that these are languages that help one to understand these mysteries, pictures and space. So, that was mind-blowing for me,” said Delhazie.

Although her teacher once told her that she couldn't become an astronaut because she was woman, the academic saw this as a challenge.

Fortunately, she had family and friends that encouraged her to chase after her dreams of being an astronomer.

She took a step further to her dreams by completing a Bachelor of Science with a Physics major at the University of Western Australia.

She persisted to apply twice for an internship opportunity, which materialised on her second attempt at the Very Large Telescope facility that is operated by the European Southern Observatory, located on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.

In an interview with Careers Portal, Dr. Delhazie excitedly shared:

This opportunity changed my life and made me realise that I really want to become an astronomer.

Delahazie went on to pursue a PhD in radio astronomy in 2014 at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, University of Western Australia, and part-time at the University of Oxford.

She has held two postdoctoral research positions, the first was at the University of Zagreb in Croatia for four years and the second one was SARAO as a Research Fellow at the University of Cape Town for four years.

Whilst Delhazie was among the researchers that discovered the two large radio galaxies in 2021, she has added this discovery to her long list of accolades since beginning her education.

Delhazie admits that while there aren't many astronomy degrees available in the world, UCT does have an undergraduate major in Astrophysics.

According to the university, this course combines a large practical component (radio and optical astronomy practicals) with theoretical background in astronomical techniques, instrumentation and data analysis.

Some experts in this field have shared that astronomers need to possess the following qualities:

  1. Analytical skills
  2. Communication skills
  3. Critical-thinking skills
  4. Curiosity
  5. Interpersonal skills
  6. Math skills
  7. Problem-solving skills
  8. Self-discipline

Outside of research and academia, Dr. Delhazie is truly passionate about science communication and astronomy.

“I think it’s essential to make our science accessible to everyone: including the general public, students, media, policy makers and other scientists. This helps to promote an interest and appreciation for science, the scientific method and critical thinking – which all impact our everyday lives.,” she said.

It is for this reason that she continues to align her passion for science and space by being involved with many different science engagement initiatives, including the Cosmic Savannah podcast.


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