Profiles of Astronomers: Vaishali Bhardwaj

Who are you and where are you from?
I’m Vaishali Bhardwaj and I’m a graduate student from California. After college at UC Berkeley, I took a year off before coming here and completed certification in Pastry School at the Cordon Bleu in London and Paris.
How did you become interested in Astronomy?
My dad always has had an interest in Astronomy and always told me facts about the Universe, but I remember distinctly the idea of “Time Dilation” in Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity was particularly mind-boggling. I could not fathom how time could possibly slow down and honestly, cannot quite fathom it to this day!
If you’re an astronomer (grad/post-doc/faculty), what do you study?
I study cosmology, the study of the formation and evolution of the Universe. We know our universe consists of approximately 5% ordinary matter, 25% dark matter, and 70% dark energy. Although we don’t know what dark matter (or dark energy) is, astronomers attempt to map where the dark matter is, to better understand it. My research focuses on understanding the distribution of material (neutral hydrogen) in between galaxies. The majority of ordinary and dark matter in the Universe lies in galaxies, but there is a lot of material outside of the galaxies as well. I am studying how that material, the intergalactic medium, is distributed — whether its evenly permeated through the Universe, or clumps up in dense clouds. Studying this will give us a better map of how the Universe looks, and help us understand how it formed and evolved.
What’s the coolest thing (not literal) in the Universe?
The idea that the same rules, only a handful of physics laws, govern the evolution of the Universe. Whether it’s the formation of a planet or a galaxy, the same rules apply and our task is to fully understand how all those elements interact to create all the amazing objects in the Universe.
What’s the coolest thing outside of your field?
The fact that somehow organic matter converted itself to a self-sustaining replicating being that ultimately became intelligent enough to wonder about how this transformation occurred!
What is your favorite non-astronomy hobby?
I love cooking! As they say, “Baking is science for hungry people”. I find that cooking is a great way to create small projects for oneself in which the end result will ultimately nourish you. So, you’re able to enjoy the success of creating something while providing yourself with sustenance.
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