Whether you grew up looking at the Southern Cross or the Big Dipper, chances are you’ve wondered in amazement at the immensity of what’s above you. UWA Astrophysicist Danail Obreschkow liked nothing more than star gazing as a child and has built a career out of this passion.
“I remember my dad taking me out at night to see the stars in Switzerland from around the time I was four-years-old, and stars have amazed me and occupied my time ever since,” says Danail.
“I have a great deal of passion for the mysteries of the universe and this is what drives me to conduct great research.”
An active Research Associate Professor at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research since the end of 2011, Danail studies the evolution of galaxies which he likens to big islands in space.
“There are several hundred billion of these galaxies and each galaxy contains billions of stars. That’s a lot of stars - there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on every beach on earth,” Danail says.
“I want to discover how galaxies produce all these stars and why they evolve the way they do.”
Taking a universe-wide perspective, Danail’s research looks at the large scale structure of the cosmos as he works to identify the main physical driver of star formation. In doing this he’s trying to answer questions that no one knows the answers to, which is an exciting prospect.
“The key is to break the problem down into smaller questions and step-by-step put together the puzzle that begins to appear in front of you. This approach, combined with collaboration with other experts across the field results in slow but steady advances,” he says.
However, while this ground-breaking research takes up the majority of Danail’s time, it’s not the only high-profile project he’s involved in. He’s also engaged as a mission specialist with the European Space Agency in microgravity research conducted aboard parabolic flights.
“This type of aircraft provides brief moments of weightlessness for training astronauts and in my case for conducting research. The plane climbs at a 45 degree angle then levels off between 24,000 and 32,000 feet and dives. We get about 25 seconds of weightlessness on each manoeuvre, and would complete 31 of these in a flight. Since 2005, we’ve accumulated four hours of weightlessness,” he says.
In his spare time, the Astrophysicist with a penchant for parabolic arcs is also quite handy at writing code and a smartphone App he created as an educational tool hit the headlines last week.
“I developed Cosmic Eye to help Arts students understand the different scales of the universe. The video I developed on the App was posted four years ago but was picked up last week by The Science World. Since then it has had over 40 million views, been shared on Facebook 800,000 times and generated 28,000 comments,” he says.
“Why a video goes viral is anyone’s guess but I think it helps that anyone can understand the movie and gain an understanding of how large our universe is. It connects a known environment to a largely unknown one, and I think to some level, everyone has an interest in what’s above us when we look up, and wants to know more.”