Liz Bartlett MPhys Astrophysics with a Year Abroad, 2009 PhD Physics, 2013
European Southern Observatory (ESO) fellow
I work as an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory, investigating the multi-wavelength properties of some of the biggest stars known. Quite simply, I wouldn’t be where I am today without two important experiences at Southampton; my year abroad which I spent at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), and the astronomy field trip to Tenerife.
I absolutely loved the hands-on observing experience I got during the second-year field trip to Tenerife. That was a pivotal moment for me; it was when I decided I wanted to be an astronomer.
I absolutely loved the campus around the Physics and Astronomy building; the stream, the ducks, the green space. I also really liked the idea that the halls were separate from the main campus and more integrated in the surrounding environment – I was very excited to go to uni, but I didn’t want to be there 24/7!
My Southampton highlights
I don’t think I could pick just one highlight from Southampton – I had an incredible time, both socially and academically. I met amazing people on lots of different courses.
I was very involved with the JCR (junior common room) and helped organise the Glen Eyre fresher’s week in 2006 and 2007. I also worked at the infamous Jesters Nightclub for two years – that prepares you for anything!
Hands-on observing experience
I absolutely loved the hands-on observing experience I got during the second-year field trip to Tenerife. That was a pivotal moment for me; it was when I decided I wanted to be an astronomer. The year abroad at the Harvard-Smithsonian really cemented this for me, showing me the day-to-day life of an astronomer – it’s not all long nights in remote locations!
If you’re thinking about studying the Harvard programme, go for it. What's the worst that could happen? You’ll have an incredible experience living in an amazing city. Living abroad, even in the relative comforts of the USA, gives you a new perspective and gives you further independence. If you think you might be interested in a PhD, the degree gives you the perfect taste of postgraduate life and the skills you gain allow you to hit the ground running.
Researching massive stars at the European Southern Observatory
I’m now an astronomer, working at ESO. The Very Large Telescope (VLT) is probably the most famous, most well regarded optical facility in the world. It certainly felt like it was the pinnacle to me, and way out of my reach. Now it’s my office and I get to be a part of its history!
My research is focussed on the multi-wavelength properties of some of the most massive stars known. These stars can be hundreds of times the mass of our sun, and thousands of times more luminous. The majority of massive stars do not exist in isolation, but form and evolve in binary systems. I am interested in the interactions between the components of the binary system and hopefully what this can tell us about its current state, its history and its end point.
A publication in Nature Astronomy
I’ve recently had a research paper published in Nature Astronomy as my team has identified the location of a neutron star in a much-studied supernova remnant. This research is linked to the work I did back on my year abroad at Harvard; Chandra, the X-ray telescope used for the study, is run from the CfA, where the year abroad programme is based. I wouldn’t be where I am now without my year there.