Dunsink Lane, Dublin 15, D15 XR2R

Meteors 2020: Interview with Sarah Joyce

Students at the TY Meteor Week, March 2017.

From our guest blogger Qi Qi Kennedy, Masters student at UCD

Looking back at the meteor project over the last few years at DIAS Dunsink Observatory, I interviewed a number of Citizen Scientists from both the professional and amateur astronomy worlds. Beginning with Sarah Joyce, now a Theoretical Physics student at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), we discussed her interest in astronomy, involvement with the Observatory, and the transition from secondary school to college life. 

Sarah first became involved with the wonder of astronomy as a child while watching the Star Wars films. She enjoyed looking up at the night sky, wondering and asking questions, “are we alone?” or “is there life out there?”. From a very early age, she was a regular visitor to the Dunsink Public Open Nights with her family and friends

TY Meteor Week at DIAS Dunsink Observatory

Sarah participated in the first TY Meteor Science Week at DIAS Dunsink Observatory in March 2017. This week gave her the experience of practicing science, which has been important for her going forward in life. Seeing how scientific life is carried out encouraged her to take on the study of Theoretical Physics. Sarah is sure that this brilliant TY Meteor Week changed her life and the way she thought about science. Interacting with professional and amateur astronomers practising Citizen Science and discussing their knowledge freely was an enlightening experience, showing her the many possibilities that physics, astrophysics and maths would give her in life.

Students at the TY Meteor Week, March 2017.
Students at the TY Meteor Week, March 2017.

Before this TY week, Sarah didn’t know a lot about meteors, but she learned a lot as she and the other TY students worked with data from meteor cameras and radio antennae. They studied a bright meteor that was seen by two different cameras at different locations, from Dunsink and Galway. Using trigonometry, the location of where the meteor had burned up could be triangulated with reasonable accuracy. Seeing a practical application of Junior Certificate maths such as trigonometry, Sarah thought this was “REALLY COOL”. During this week four days were spent in DIAS Dunsink Observatory and on the final day, the students went to DIAS buildings at Fitzwilliam Place to present their posters from the week.

A roaring fire at Dunsink Observatory, December 2017
A roaring fire at Dunsink Observatory, December 2017, with Emer Reynolds, director of “The Farthest“.

Following on from the TY Meteor Week, Sarah became more involved in the Citizen Science events by writing blogs for the Dunsink Observatory website. Through the variety of talks and speakers, she also saw and learned of the huge variety of different topics within astronomy and astrophysics. Sarah enjoyed being surrounded by the history of Sir William Rowan Hamilton’s achievements and the importance of Dunsink Time. This gave her the feeling that she was following in the footsteps of past and present scientists. Sarah says that “all of the Citizen Science volunteering team at DIAS Dunsink Observatory were really helpful and willing to encourage me and the other students, and for this I’m very grateful”. 

On completion of her Leaving Certificate, Sarah decided to study Theoretical Physics (TCD) to focus on both physics and maths, and how they complement each other. She thinks it is the perfect course for her. One module that she particularly enjoyed was Special Relativity because it blew her mind.

Hamilton Trust Summer Internship Programme

During Summer 2020, Sarah was lucky to be chosen for the Hamilton Trust Summer Internship Programme with the School of Maths in Trinity. The project she wanted to do followed on from her experience in DIAS Dunsink Observatory during the TY Meteor Week. Sarah researched “using Neural Networks to Analyse Meteor Data”,  collected from the meteor cameras at Dunsink Observatory and from Michael O’Connell’s Astroshot Observatory, both part of the NEMETODE Network. Sarah worked to automate the time-consuming process of sorting through the nightly recordings to distinguish satellites, clouds and wildlife from true meteor captures. This must be done before analysing meteor images, and is a great opportunity to use Machine Learning techniques to remove the false positives and return a dataset containing only meteors. During this 6 week project, she researched this possibility and found a network architecture called Mask R-CNN, developed by Facebook for image recognition and suitable to analyse meteors. Sarah learned a lot about carrying out independent research work and being able to critically analyse the data from carrying out this interesting project.

Sarah’s poster presentation of her Hamilton Trust Summer Internship, Summer 2020

Starting University

Naughton Scholarships, September 2019

Sarah is a recipient of the Naughton Scholarship and says that The Naughton Foundation has been fantastic in their support and “the events that they organise and the opportunities available to me as a result of getting the scholarship are fantastic.” Recently this allowed her to complete the 12-week Harvard Business School online course called CORE, gaining experience and skills for the future in different fields complementary to STEM subjects. Sarah has many interests in life, and enjoys playing the violin, speaking Irish and journalistic writing.

TCD PhySoc trip to Krakow, January 2020

This year Sarah becomes Secretary of TCD PhySoc and is looking forward to being more involved in this Society that helped her as a first year student. Weekly “Brainfood” events were a great chance to meet and discuss with other students, as well as other interesting events and talks held throughout the year. The highlight of the year for Sarah was a trip to Krakow, visiting the Institute of Nuclear Physics and The Copernicus Museum. The visits gave historical context for these different areas of science and Sarah is looking forward to organising interesting events for TCD PhySoc next year 2020/21.

Sarah will also be the Public Relations Officer of Theoretical Physics Student Association (TPSA), only founded in the past year and dedicated to supporting Theoretical Physics Students. As a first year student last year Sarah says, “I don’t think I would’ve been as comfortable or settled into college as well without having TPSA”. Their weekly meetings encouraged discussions with older students who shared advice and guidance when needed.

Sarah believes Citizen Science initiatives are important within society, encouraging people to have curiosity for the world around them, and to gain understanding for how science develops and changes. For example, with meteors, anyone can get involved either through an association or independently by getting a camera and linking up with the NEMETODE Network, and learning through citizen science collaboration. Sarah says “there are lots of important discoveries that have been made just by interested people who really have an interest and a love for the subject.”