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30 under 30: Tracing the Evolution of the Universe

Meet Minnie Mao, 26, one of the up-and-coming physicists attending this year's Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting



Image courtesy of Minnie Mao

The annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting brings a wealth of scientific minds to the shores of Germany’s Lake Constance. Every summer at Lindau, dozens of Nobel Prize winners exchange ideas with hundreds of young researchers from around the world. Whereas the Nobelists are the marquee names, the younger contingent is an accomplished group in its own right. In advance of this year’s meeting, which focuses on physics, we are profiling several promising attendees under the age of 30. The profile below is the 21st in a series of 30.

Name: Minnie Mao
Age: 26
Born: Melbourne, Australia
Nationality: Australian

Current position: Postdoctoral researcher at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico
Education: Bachelor of Science (Honours), University of Tasmania; PhD candidate, University of Tasmania

What is your field of research?
I want to know how galaxies have formed and evolved since the beginning of the Universe.

What drew you to physics, and to that research area in particular?
It was almost accidental actually. I was enamoured by the night sky as a kid and didn’t ever seriously consider (or realise) astronomy was something one could do for a living. I actually made the mistake of thinking I’d be a lawyer when I grew up! Half-way through my science/law degree I participated in the Summer Project Program at UTas and learned about radio telescopes. I never went back to finish my law degree

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully sitting in the control room of the Australian Telescope Compact Array analysing data from the earliest black holes. (I hope they still let astronomers observe at the telescope – it really is the most wonderful learning experience literally seeing a project progress from the acquisition of the data itself.) I would love to know how giant black holes appear to exist within the first billion years of the Big Bang – despite models for giant black holes suggesting they require billions of years to grow.

Who are your scientific heroes?
I love Richard Feynman’s books Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman and Six Easy Pieces. I strongly believe that the ability to communicate science is as important as the science itself – how can society benefit from a science result if it isn’t conveyed? Richard Feynman was not only a brilliant scientist – he was also a brilliant conveyer of science.

What is your dream experiment?

If I had unlimited resources I’d go searching for extraterrestrial intelligent life. It seems statistically unlikely that we’re the only “intelligent” life in the Universe. The detection of extraterrestrial intelligent life would certainly change the way we view ourselves, and a non-detection would put serious limits on the desire or ability of extraterrestrial lifeforms to communicate with us.

What activities outside of physics do you most enjoy?
I really enjoy being outdoors and exploring new places. I recently learned to scuba dive and absolutely love it. (Then I moved to the middle of New Mexico, which isn’t exactly known for its diving).

What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
I’m attending Lindau to hear the stories of the Nobel Laureates. I want to know how they decided upon their field of research. Did they realise how significant their science would be or did they merely burrow deep into a science question that was driving them mad?

Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet or learn from at Lindau?
It’s probably rather trite, but I am excited to learn from all the Nobelists who are attending this meeting – I suspect they’re all very interesting people with fascinating stories. Having said that, I would be particularly excited to meet the discoverers of the cosmic microwave background’s anisotropies, John Mather and George Smoot. Their discovery basically cemented the big bang theory. I am also terribly excited to meet and learn from Brian Schmidt – his work on type Ia supernovae led to the discovery that the expanding universe is accelerating.

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20. Andrea Thamm
30 Under 30:
Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting
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22. Ragnar Stroberg

 

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