What's it like to study... Astronomy

Samuel Nathan Richards studied a BSc in Astronomy at the
University of Hertfordshire

Why would anyone study Astronomy? I think the great, late Carl Sagan said it perfectly, "We are a way for the cosmos to know itself." It is in this that I cannot remember a time that I looked up at the night sky and was not taken aback by the sheer wonder of the cosmos.

From a young age, the unknown beckoned me, and it would be common to catch me watching television repeats of “How Stuff Works” in my spare time. As I grew older and went through the academic ranks before university, I discovered that at each step the teacher would question that which had been previously taught and lead onto revealing that actually we do not have it all figured out. At this point, the concept of “Dark Matter & Energy” had recently been widely accepted, which really hooked me into the study of Astronomy. This particular concept unforgivingly exposed just how little we understood about the contents of the cosmos.

After taking three years as a form of sabbatical prior to going to University, I decided to pursue this curiosity and enrolled in the Astrophysics undergraduate degree programme at the University of Hertfordshire. Here I found the greatest gift from an academic institution; opportunity. Having lecturers that were full-time researchers and at the top of their respective fields enabled the class to be exposed to the latest Astronomy and have a chance to take on research projects. Everything from laboratory physics to observational astronomy at Bayfordbury Observatory, continued my passion and lead to even greater opportunities - in particular, a research year abroad within the Astrophotonics department at the University of Sydney, Australia.

During this year abroad, I had the opportunity to work on a ground-breaking new telescope instrument called “SAMI”, for the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope. This instrument will greatly aid the pursuit in understanding the properties of galaxies, and is the main focus of my research as I have now graduated and returned to the University of Sydney & Australian Astronomical Observatory. With this instrument and another that I built for Bayfordbury Observatory (BASIS), I have had the opportunity to present at conferences around the world, and build international collaborations for the future. This aspect of travelling definitely appeals to me as a perk of the job, especially when some of the world leading telescopes are in places such as Hawaii, Chile, La Palma and Antarctica!

Within the degree programme, you learn all different aspects of astronomy, from understanding why stars twinkle and why that is really annoying for astronomers, to racking your head around the hardest concepts of an expanding universe. The most valuable and transferable skill learnt during such a degree is that of problem solving. Problems exist in all aspects of life where astronomers, among physicists, are of the best in finding solutions. This can result in many of those who undertake such a degree not continuing an Astronomy career, but rather redirecting those acquired skills in other disciplines, e.g. finance, making physicists one of the most sought after group of people.

All of this does not come easy though. Many a time do you find yourself scribbling equations across whiteboards in the middle of the night - unintentionally prompting other students to heckle quotes from the popular show, “The Big Bang Theory” - but popping out with the correct answer after hours of equations is one of the most rewarding experiences. I guess you might just have to trust me on that one. It may seem to be a very difficult degree to undertake, but I would encourage anyone thinking about embarking upon on this subject to not shy away as there is plenty of help at hand, from willing lecturers/researchers to your own peers who are equally at lost to some of the most complex concepts known to mankind.

I intend to stay true to the path of the unknown in the pursuit of a career in Astrophysics, mainly in the development of new observational instruments and deployment of such instruments at the best-suited locations, primarily the high Antarctica plateau. I will never forget the Apollo 8 image of the Earthrise and hope one day I will be honoured with witnessing the event with my very own eyes.

If I am to have any final words it would be that the Space Race left a wake of endeavour, premised on the notion of not doing these things because they are easy, but because they are hard (JFK). Take up the pioneer’s call, and enjoy the life of excitement and discovery as we truly start to probe the final frontier.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

PPA Cover Teachers Required in Doncaster

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Primary PPA Teachers required for wo...

Female PE Teacher

£23760 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Year 3 Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

Year 3 Teacher Plymouth

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York