This week our curator hails from Mount Burnett Observatory where he is an Outreach Officer. Dr James Murray works in finance by day, and amongst the stars and planets by night. He tweets @JamesTeach, and answered our introductory questions with an intergalactic glimmer.
Why/How did you end up in science?
I always wanted to understand why things were and how they went together. As an undergraduate I studied physics, mathematics, electrical engineering, materials science and French. My PhD thesis topic was “SPH simulations of accretion disks in cataclysmic variables” which was a complex way of saying I was studying gas flows between two stars that orbit one another very closely. During my first postdoc extrasolar planets were discovered and my interests slowly evolved into understanding how these formed.
Why did you choose your current field/what keeps you there?
I studied astronomy well before I had a particular love for it. My curiosity was very broad and right up until I picked up my first paper as a PhD student I had no idea, I had no sense I was going to be an astronomer. It was only after I started teaching undergraduates and doing outreach that I properly fell in love with the subject. What keeps me doing astronomy? The joy of sharing the excitement of seeing a planet for the first time and then describing how many planets there are out there.
Tell us about your work?
I run the outreach program at Mount Burnett Observatory, a volunteer run observatory in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne. My remit is to introduce as many people to astronomy in as many different ways as possible. From running programs for visiting scout groups to exploring the meeting of science and art with university students I and my team are always looking for new ways to excite an interest in the night sky.
Motivation: why should the lay public care about your research/work?
Because astronomy is a field of knowledge that provides us with context. We live on a small planet in a galaxy of hundreds of billions of stars amongst possibly billions of other planets, and yet we are so far away from any of them we may as well be alone. It makes you pause to think doesn’t it!
Do you have any interesting external/extracurricular obligations?
Outside of my science I work in finance having left professional astrophysics eight years ago. I found that the training and skills an astrophysicist gets are also very useful for a career in banking.
Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?
There will be zumba. That’s all I am saying!
How would you describe your ideal day off?
I am very lucky as science IS my day off! I do it because I enjoy it…. but away from astronomy you will find me with my five kids. My ideal day off would be trawling through a museum or National Trust site somewhere, crawling into a priest hole in a Tudor mansion or learning the intricacies of Morris dancing.