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Dark Matter Physicist with a Bright Future

One of the more difficult things about communicating science to the general public is figuring out how to get people to see things the way scientists see them. That's part of the reason why most physicists tend not to stray too far from a whiteboard or sketchpad but some concepts are beyond even their artistic abilities.


Because of this it's crucial for scientists, from all fields, to devote some of their time to community outreach and sharing their insights and understanding on social media. A great example of this last year was a video produced by Raven Baxter (AKA Raven the Science Maven) that explained immunology and how antibodies work.


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But how do scientists find the time in between solving equations and analysing data to write rap parodies or prepare posts for Instagram? The short answer is that most of them don't because science is hard and generally pretty time-consuming.


Unless they're lucky enough to have financial support from their families, graduate students in STEM fields often have to rely upon scholarships, part-time jobs, and even loans just to make ends meet. Now imagine being under that kind of pressure and still producing regular SciComm content.


This is basically the life of Sophia Gad-Nasr, a brilliant science communicator and doctoral candidate at UC Irvine who studies cosmology and the behaviour of astrophysical particles.

Sophia's research is focussed on dark matter - the stuff that makes up about 85% of the material in the Universe but, unlike regular or baryonic matter, doesn't interact with light.


Since we can't directly observe dark matter we have to rely on indirect measurements of the gravitational effects it has on objects around it.

Much of the research done by cosmologists like Sophia involves numerical simulations of the dark matter halo (not the Beyoncé variety) which is thought to exist in and around galaxies; the general idea is to find a simulation model that produces results which match the things we can observe directly.


import illustris_python as il
from C-EAGLE import SIDM_simulation as SIDM
subhalos = il.groupcat.loadSubhalos(135,fields=fields)
SIDM.(subhalos,lensing)

Throughout her studies Sophia has found the time to help people learn about space and the dark mysterious corners of the cosmos. Now you might be thinking that certain people have better imaginations than others but when it comes to something like dark matter, it's kind of hard for the average person to picture something that doesn't interact with any kind of light.


Enter Cathrin Machin. With a degree in mechanical engineering and over a decade's experience in 3D design and the video-game industry, Cathrin has burst onto the science communication scene like a supernova with a unique talent for creating realistic depictions of spiral galaxies, nebulae, and more.


These stunning pieces of astronomical art are not only loved by space enthusiasts but also represent a rich source of inspiration for the next generation of scientists, engineers, and astronauts; proving just how import the role of art is in STEAM and science communication.

Recently, Sophia unexpectedly lost half of her income stream because of a fellowship cancellation and realised that she would need to take on extra teaching work. When Cathrin found out about this she reached out to Sophia to see if there was some way she could help.

Popular science websites love to write about intriguing topics like dark matter - now they'll have the perfect cover image for their posts

Together they came up with the idea of launching a collaborative project to combine their respective skills and produce some artwork based on Sophia's cosmological research, depicting the collapse of dark matter halos into black holes. This project will help fund Sophia's research and allow her to continue working towards her goals but it also represents something deeper.


Popular science websites love to write about intriguing topics like dark matter - now they'll have the perfect cover image for their posts - but sometimes online outlets end up relying on imagery that is closer to science fiction than science fact.


And that's what makes this project special! Anyone who manages to buy one of these magical pieces of art - which will only be on sale for 3 days between the 10th and 13th of June - is not only supporting the study of our Universe but will essentially own a piece of history that represents a rare but beautiful crossover between the worlds of science and art.


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To register for updates about when and how you can purchase one of these exclusive pieces go to http://catma.ch/SophiaXCathrin and remember that once they're sold out they will not be available again.


If you want to learn more about Cathrin Machin's journey and experience in SciComm you can watch her Spotlight Talk from Ramon SciComm Con 2021 or check her out on social media @CathrinMachin


You can also check out Sophia Gad-Nasr @Astropartigirl on most social media platforms - I'd especially recommend having a look at the videos she produces on TikTok

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