Sunday 25 June 2023

A day with an Astronomer at IIA

This post is written by my son Supreet. In his own words...

The IIA (Indian Institute of Astrophysics) had organized a program called “A day with an astronomer” at Bengaluru for students studying in class 9 and 10. The student will be paired with an astronomer at IIA and will be shadowing the scientist throughout the day. The students can observe what the scientist is doing, ask questions, have a discussion with them etc. In this post I’ll share my experience of this program and what I learnt.
My father is a member and a volunteer at Bangalore Astronomical Society (BAS). He got to know about this program through BAS group (Thanks to Mr. Keerthi). He asked me if I was interested in it and I said I was. He then sent an email to confirm the participation. After a week or so my father received a message saying that I was chosen for the program. Only 9th and 10th class students got this opportunity and I was one of them. They gave the date, address and the scientist’s name. The name of the scientist assigned to me was Mr. Manjunath. 

The timings were 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and we reached the IIA campus at 9:15 a.m. Upon reaching the campus the security person asked me to enter my name in the visitor’s book. This was the first time in my life that I entered my name in a visitor’s book. We then called the scientist to check if he had come. We were 15 min early and the scientist said it would take him 10 more minutes to come. My father and I waited, while I was looking at the small pond inside the campus. After 10 minutes the scientist came and introduced himself to me and my father. 

After a short conversation with my dad, he said bye and went away and I was alone with the scientist. At first, Manjunath Sir showed me a telescope model on the campus. It was a ground telescope and its name was Vainu Bappu Telescope (VBT) and it was 2.34 in diameter. It is situated in the Kavalur in Javadi hills of Tamilnadu. Then Manjunath Sir showed me another telescope model. It was Ultra Violet Imaging Telescope (UVIT) and it was a space telescope. 

Then Manjunath Sir took me to a building where he is working. He took me to his desk and I sat there beside him. It was a small room with about 16 to 22 desks. His desk was at the beginning and very near to the door. We sat and after 2 min, he asked me which class I was in and which school I studied in. I said that I was in class 9 and my school is Insight Academy. He explained about his work. He said that he was doing Instrumentation, a part of Astrophysics. There are three parts in Astrophysics. The first one was Experimental. It requires the skill of Programming and basically includes observations. The second one was Theoretical which required skill in math and physics. The third one was Instrumentation which required skill in engineering. 

Instrumentation was all about instruments that are used in building robotic arms and others. The work he had to do was build robotic arms to place fibers on the focal plane. He also studied Exoplanets. He then explained to me about the types of telescopes and its uses. It was 11:45 a.m.when he decided to take a break and have coffee or tea. Then he realized that it was 11:45 and said that the cafeteria opened only till 11:30a.m. He then opened a file in his laptop and showed a few images of the spectrum. Then I asked him a few questions and he answered all my questions. When I told him that I have a few questions about the universe, he asked me to meet another gentleman who is an expert in Cosmology. 

His name is Ravi Sir and I went near his desk and asked him if he could explain to me about Cosmology. He said yes and asked me to sit on a chair beside him. He asked me if I had a book and I said yes and gave it to him. He started explaining about cosmology and the first thing he asked me was “what is cosmology”? I said I don’t know and he said cosmology was the study of the universe like the big bang. He then taught me various things like what is the Big bang, how the universe started, what is dark matter, what is baryon matter and about gravity. I then thanked him and went back to Manjunath Sir’s desk. He then sent me to another gentleman called Anirban Sir and said that he is a specialist and studied about supernovae. 

I went to Anirban Sir’s desk and he gave me a chair from his neighbor’s desk which was vacant. I sat beside him and he started to explain about supernovae and galaxies. I asked him a few questions and he answered all of them. Then he showed me a few pictures about supernovae and galaxies. He also showed me photos of black holes and nebulae. I then thanked him and went back to the desk. Manjunath Sir said it was lunch time and took me to the dining hall. 

I ate pooris with potato curry and curd. The lunch was nice and good. We finished our lunch at 1:30 p.m.and were on the way back to the desk when we met two ladies. Manjunath Sir said that they were his seniors and introduced them to me. He then told one of them to take me to her lab. She said ok and took me to her lab. She introduced herself and asked my name, age and school. Her name is Radhika Madam and then she opened her laptop to explain a few things. She mainly works on adjustment and alignment of the mirrors and lenses. She taught me a few things about alignment of mirrors and said that even if one mirror was slightly different than the other it would cause trouble and the result would be wrong. 

Manjunath Sir then came to the lab and thanked her and left with me. He took me back to the desk and said we would go to have tea or coffee at 4:00 pm. It was 3:30 pm so I had to wait for 30 more minutes. At 4:10 pm we went to the cafeteria, and I took tea and he took coffee. We sat on the table and drank our tea and coffee. After drinking he said to me that he is going to take me to his supervisor. I said ok and he took me to a big building. We went through a lift to the 3rd floor. We then walked down the hallway and after a few seconds we reached the room. We went in and then he introduced me to his supervisor Sivaran Madam. She is a professor.

Manjunath Sir spoke to Sivaran Madam about what he had taught me and sent me to other scientists who were good at their areas. Sivaran Madam then asked me a few questions and I answered them all. She then introduced me to the girl who was sitting there. Her name is Manasvi and she is job-shadowing her. 

There was a nebula’s picture on the cupboard and I asked Madam which nebula it was. She said it was the Crab nebula (M1). She then opened the cupboard and gave a few pictures to me and the girl. She said that we could take any 2 pictures that we liked. There were many pictures of galaxies, nebulae, twin galaxies and stars. Manasvi took a picture of a nebula and I took two pictures which I found were good. One is a picture of crab nebula (M1) and another the spiral galaxy NGC 6946. Then I said thank you and left with the girl and Manjunath Sir.
NGC 6946


Manjunath Sir was taking us to his desk and on the way we met one of his friends, Shubham Sir. He asked Shubham Sir if he could take us to his lab. He said yes and then took us to his lab. There were all kinds of things required for machinery. Shubham Sir along with his teammate works on developing space payloads. They sent one recently and it was successful. 

Manjunath Sir took us to another building and then took us to his colleague Amrutha Madam. She showed us different types of galaxies and their shapes and colors. She also taught me about galaxies and how nebulae are formed. She is also currently working on studying 16 galaxies. 

Manjunath Sir then took us to his desk and he explained about his work to Manasvi. I was packing my bag as it was 4:15pm. The session ended at 5:00pm and only 45 more minutes were left. He then said that he was working on building a 30m telescope with four more countries. Total five countries are taking part in it and they are India, Japan, Canada, USA and China. 

At 4:45pm we left Manasvi back to Sivaran Madam’s room and came back to Manjunath Sir’s desk. Another 15 more minutes were left. I started writing in my book about the things that I learned and were taught to me. I wrote the scientists' names and what they taught me. Finally my father called Manjunath Sir and said that he was at the reception. I packed everything in my bag and Manjunath Sir packed his bag too. He then took me to the reception and after a small talk with my dad I said thank you and said bye to him. 

I had great fun and learning experience in the job shadowing program. It was wonderful and I learned many things too. I hope I will get another chance to do this someday again. Thanks to the IIA for this opportunity! Many thanks to Manjunath Sir for mentoring, help and everything. Thanks to all the other scientists as well who shared their valuable time with me.


Sachin R said...

All the best. You are moving in right direction

Anonymous said...

Nice write-up. Well done Supreeth. Keep up your interest in astrophysics. Make best use of your dad. :-)
- S V Srinivasan

Anonymous said...

Well done supreeth. Nicely written. Keep up the passion. All the best.

Suresh said...

Thank you @Sachin, @Srinivasan and @Anonymous for your encouraging words. I have conveyed your wishes to Supreet.