Safari through the Universe: Karen Masters joins Real Scientists!

We are delighted to welcome our next curator, Dr. Karen Masters (@KarenLMasters), reader in astronomy and astrophysics at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, University of Portsmouth, UK. Karen works with astronomical big data collected from various large surveys like the Sloan Digital Sky Surveys(SDSS-IV) to study how galaxies formed and evolve, focusing on objects outside the Milky Way galaxy. This week, she begins a term as spokesperson for the SDSS-IV. She is also the Project Scientist for Galaxy Zoo and often uses information on galaxy shapes and types provided by citizen scientists in her research. Karen was named the British “Women of the Future” for Science, as well as listed as one of the BBC’s “100 Women”. We also asked here the usual set of questions, and here she is in her own words:

From a young age I was fascinated by space and astronomy, and never really wanted to do anything else. I studied Physics at University with the goal of becoming an astrophysicist.

I just find space so fascinating and inspiring. It puts day to day problems in perspective and reminds me of the beauty of the Universe on a daily basis. It’s also a delight to work in a field that almost everyone is excited by and wants to talk about.

I study galaxies in the Universe. I want to try to work out what makes them the shapes they are, and how that links to the number of stars they form (both now and throughout their history). I do this using large surveys of the skies, and with the help of citizen scientists identifying the shapes and structures they see in the hundreds of thousands of galaxies we image (

I often get asked about this. One easy answer is for the spinoffs, for example your smart phone contains 3 spinoffs related to astronomical research (the camera chip, the GPS and the wifi). Honestly though I think the real reason is to ask why shouldn’t we all want to understand our place in our Universe. It’s part of being human to wonder why we’re here and how the world works.

I’m just about to become the Spokerperson for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which is one of the biggest and longest running collaborations in astronomy. This survey started more than 15 years ago by imaging most of the northern sky, and now we continue to take spectra (detailed rainbows) of millions of astronomical objects (stars, galaxies, material around black holes etc). As Spokersperson I’ll lead the Collaboration Council (to make sure all the scientists work together nicely) and be in charge of making sure our data gets made public as we promise, and overseeing any press releases we put out about exciting results.

I‘m training to participate in the Great South Run this year (a 10 mile run in Portsmouth in October). I’ve only done 5k runs before, so this is a bit scary for me. At home I like to knit/crochet (my Ravelry Page) and I read (fiction – often murder mysteries) every day.

Ideal Day Off? A quiet day involving a walk along a deserted beach and time to read one of my favourite books (perhaps “Persuasion” by Jane Austen, or “Gaudy Night” by Dorothy Sayers) with a nice cup of Italian coffee would be about ideal.




Please welcome Karen to Real Scientists!

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