Alan Duffy

Alan Duffy is do­ing his bit to com­mu­ni­cate the won­der of astron­omy to or­di­nary Aus­tralians.

Australian Geographic - - Contents -

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”.

ANNE JOHN­STON

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