Alan Duffy is doing his bit to communicate the wonder of astronomy to ordinary Australians.
DRALAN DUFFY, an astronomer at Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology, spends his days simulating baby universes on supercomputers, working on Western Australia’s new Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope, and using a detector in an underground goldmine to hunt for mysterious dark matter. This is all between radio and TV slots on shows such as The Project and ABC News Breakfast.
Alan, 33, completed his doctorate in 2009, and it was his “love of the universe and black holes” that drove him. He works as a co-investigator on SABRE, the first dark matter detector in the Southern Hemisphere, which is 1km down Victoria’s Stawell Gold Mine, where the layers of rock block particles from space that create background noise. Led by Professor Elisabetta Barberio, Alan is among experts trying to understand mysterious dark matter, which fills the universe. We know it exists because of its gravitational effects, but it is invisible and has been difficult to directly detect. His research with the simulations is part of early work on the Square Kilometre Array, which he says will be the “largest telescope ever conceived”, when completed in 2030.
Alan’s efforts to communicate complex science began in 2009 when he worked at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in WA, led by Professor Peter Quinn. Peter instilled in Alan the importance of both undertaking cutting-edge science and explaining it to others. Since then, Alan has spoken to schools, local communities and national audiences. “I do the science and then I get to talk about it… It’s always fun, even at 5.40am waking up for TV, because you get to talk about your passion.” Really, he says, he’s just hoping to get people to look up and “get a sense of the beauty and scale of the universe”.