Profiles of Astronomers: Nell Byler

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  • Who are you and where are you from?

I’m Nell Byler, a 4th year graduate student at the University of Washington. I’m originally from Palo Alto, CA and I did my undergrad at Wellesley College.

  • How did you become interested in Astronomy?

My father works for Lockheed and I always enjoyed the take-your-daughter-to-work-day events the company hosted each year – they were these grandiose affairs with hundreds of children hopping between lectures and activities and we all got to go home with goodie bags full of swag (Spirit & Opportunity paper dolls, solar flare puzzles…etc). Despite my early introduction to space science, I began college at NYU with plans to study something art-related. I took an introductory astronomy course to fulfil a gen-ed requirement and was immediately smitten. I transferred to Wellesley College the following semester and majored in physics – thank goodness I had kept up with math!

  • If you’re an astronomer, what do you study?

I am generally interested in the origin and evolution of galaxies. I use the stars within a given galaxy to probe the properties (like stellar mass or star formation history) of the galaxy as a whole; akin to looking at rings in a stump to learn about the life of that tree.

  • What’s the coolest thing (not literal) in the Universe?

Fluid dynamics! It has such widespread applications in astronomy: gas clouds in a galaxy, stellar interiors, shocks, accretion…

  • What’s the coolest thing outside of your field?

Fluid dynamics! It has such widespread applications outside of astronomy: paint on a canvas, weather, car hydraulics…

  • What is your favorite non-astronomy hobby?

Electronics and the physics of sound – after reading a book on DIY sound projects (like modifying a portable radio into a synthesizer) I started making guitar effect pedals. I get to use my physics background for the circuitry and soldering, and my artistic background to design enclosures!

 

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