You are currently reading Issue 80: Soapbox Science, May 2017

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Calling girls and women, don’t forget: You belong in STEM too – Sophia Goldberg, Cosmology Research Student at Queen Mary University of London

Sophia Goldberg

Sophia Goldberg is a cosmology research student at Queen Mary University of London. Her research focuses on applying Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity (gravity), to the largest astrophysical structures we see in the Universe. Sophia is taking part in Soapbox Science alongside Amy Knight, an artist.

Sophia Goldberg
Sophia Goldberg

Sophia is speaking at the London Soapbox Art and Science event, which takes place in September 2017 (date TBC) on the South Bank of the Thames. The title of her talk is: “Einstein’s Signature in the Cosmos”

From teaching my teddies maths on a child’s chalkboard to studying theoretical physics

From teaching my teddies maths on a child’s chalkboard to measuring the size of an atom using just a drop of oil and bucket of water, I’ve always found maths and physics fascinating. When it came to a point where I could make some decisions about what I would study next choosing Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry at A-level were the natural choices.

Sophia Goldberg
Sophia soldering her Raspberry Pi to make her own home energy monitor. The engineer in her enjoys a good hardware and software project!

At university, I studied theoretical physics because I wanted to study more of the fundamentals of physics. My masters project was in applied maths and I loved it but I felt that I had unfinished business with theoretical physics. So, in deciding what to specialise in I reflected on my courses and decided to think big, the entire Universe ‘big’, and came to the conclusion that I loved studying gravitation in General Relativity – the mathematics behind it was super – and using it in cosmology would be amazing!

What does a cosmology research student actually do?!!

This is a question I get asked by most of my friends: “What do you actually do?!!” Unlike an experimental physicist, biologist, chemist or engineer, theoretical physicists work in an office and not the lab.

A normal day starts with me going to the office and looking at today’s publications on the web – a bit like checking the ‘news’, but for research on the cosmos – is there any ‘news’ today relevant for my work? Then I pick up from where I left off on a particular research project. A cosmology project normally has a few stages.

Sophia Goldberg
Sophia with a cake she made with the first gravitational wave direct detection signature decorated onto it

At first, you or a collaborator has an interesting idea to address a particular problem in the Universe. This may either be something completely original or an extension of previous work. You then read relevant publications and books – has anyone done this work before or done something to help with this work?

You then start to undertake your own original calculations to answer this research question. Often these calculations are so complicated that you need to write code on a computer to help you write and solve them. I’ll regularly discuss research progress or problems with collaborators. The latter of which often requires being confused and staring at a white board together until one of you gets some inspiration.

When you get to a point with your research where you’ve made good progress in addressing your particular research question you write up your work and send it off to publication! Research loops over this. Other work on monthly basis includes attending or giving talks on my research at seminars and conferences, teaching, supervising projects, outreach and working on increasing diversity in science through various committees!

Making sense of complexity in science

Sophia Goldberg
Sophia delivering a talk in South Africa

Complexity science is the study of complex systems, such as ants. Yes, one of my favourite examples of a complex system is one I was fascinated by as a child – ants.

A huge colony of ants may look like a very complicated system but, amazingly, we can model it by understanding how one single ant behaves. Its behaviour, like where it wants to go next, can be determined by a few key features. By modelling these keys features scientists have been able to model an entire colony of ants and this has helped us understand how colonies survive in what might otherwise look like a complicated mess.

My published master’s thesis looked at the complex system of academics. I looked at how we can best model how academic papers are related to one another through their bibliographies and why some models of this are better than others!

Einsten vs. Newton

Sophia recording an outreach video she made on explaining integration by parts
Sophia recording an outreach video she made on explaining integration by parts

My talk is on Einstein’s signature in the cosmos. It’s based on my research which looks as how does using Einstein’s vs. Newton’s gravity affect astrophysical objects on the largest scales in our Universe? This includes structure as large as clusters of galaxies.

I’ll prepare by looking at previous talks I’ve given and think carefully about the audience – there will probably be lots of kids and I want them to get as much from it as possible. I’ll try to use cool props to show that everyone can appreciate gravity, like lovely pictures of galaxies and stars: they’re really beautiful and awe inspiring!

From STEM to STEAM – bringing home complex scientific ideas in a new way

I’m so excited to be working with Amy [Knight] – she’s done really amazing work and her interest in science and maths is great for our collaboration. I think exciting public talks on science, where you can keep the content and drop the jargon, can be really effective at communicating scientific concepts.

Amy Knight and Sophia Goldberg
Sophia with Amy Knight at her art exhibition. The piece is called t=time

However, everyone thinks and learns differently and I think that including art into the mix helps bring complex ideas home and makes people see and understand scientific ideas in a new way. It’s like when explaining a concept to someone you may try one approach but it might not work, and only when you write it down with a picture or diagram then the penny drops! Also, including art in Soapbox Science will hopefully mean that a more diverse set of people will come to the events!

Girls and women belong in STEM too

My advice to all girls interested in STEM careers is that they should keep doing STEM! If you’re young: watch Hidden Figures, go to the Science Museum or Soapbox Science. In fact, do this at any age. If you’re a teenager thinking about what A-levels to take talk to your teachers, parents and friends.

Sophia Goldberg and Jim Al-Khalili
Sophia being presented with an outreach award by Jim Al-Khalili

The sort of career path you may want to go down will point you into the direction of what sort of degrees and A-levels are most relevant to take. If you’re a young woman, go to networking events and talk to careers advisers, peers and lecturers to help you work out what next step is best for you. Remember, you can change career direction no matter what path you’re on at any age – that’s the beauty of a career in STEM. Oh, and don’t forget: you belong in STEM too.

Becoming Dr. Goldberg…

Towards the end of this year I’ll finish my Ph.D. thesis and then soon after I’ll be Dr. Goldberg – fingers crossed! I love working in STEM, it is so exciting because there is such a huge verity of career options open to you. In my next step, I’m looking for jobs which enable me to use the great skills I’ve gained and enjoyed using in STEM!

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