Bwog Science is bringing you a brand new column, CU Women in STEM! In this feature, we’ll be highlighting the amazing women in science at Columbia. Our first profile is from Anna Coerver (BC ’20), who is as bright and exciting as the stars she studies!
What subjects are you interested in? I honestly love most of physics, but I’m all about the astro side–I’m really interested in compact object theory (magnetars, black holes, neutron stars) and cosmology. Also, I love solar physics, anything with a weird magnetic field, anything that explodes, and light phenomena like rainbows and spectroscopy.
How did you get interested in astrophysics? I knew I liked physics in high school, but for some reason, I literally never thought about outer space. Both of my parents are art historians, so science wasn’t really a casual conversation topic in my house, and my high school didn’t offer anything astro-related. I took a class my first semester freshman year called “Theories of the Universe: Babylon to the Big Bang” because it sounded history-like and because I was interested in science history. Somehow, this class totally hooked me on space! The semester after, I took an astronomy class where I went on a spring break trip to an observatory in Arizona. The time in nature plus the astrophotography plus the stars were all I needed to push me into astrophysics as my main interest, and it’s snowballed from there.
What research have you done? I work with the NuSTAR group in the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory doing high-energy astroparticle physics. I analyze X-ray and gamma-ray data of really energetic objects like pulsar wind nebulae and black hole binaries.
What are your career goals? I want a PhD in astrophysics, and I think I want to be a research scientist, hopefully with my own lab some day. Then again, I might end up living at an observatory on top of a mountain somewhere, and spend my days hiking and teaching kids about space.
Who are some of your favorite professors? Favorite classes? Reshmi Mukherjee!! I owe this incredible woman so much. Despite the fact that she is the spokesperson for a gamma-ray telescope, runs a research lab, is one of the busiest people I know, and is incredibly respected by everyone at this university, she truly cares about undergrads and genuinely wants you to succeed. I would not have begun research after my freshman year or had the opportunity to present that research at conferences without her. She teaches Intro to Mechanics and quantum physics at Barnard. I also really loved Observational Astronomy with David Schiminovich (the Arizona field trip class) and highly recommend if you’re curious about optics and astrophotography.
Favorite science building on campus? This isn’t a building but: the 5th floor of Altschul, a.k.a. the Barnard Physics department, a.k.a. my home.
Favorite scientist? Vera Rubin, discoverer of dark matter, and should-have-been-a-Nobel-Prize-winner (sexism cheated her out of one)! Look how cool she is! (image via astrobites.org).
What do you do BESIDES science? I dance, I’m involved with the Jewish community on campus, I make a lot of playlists, and I go to a lot of art museums (but I really mostly do science).
What advice would you give to someone interested in a STEM major? It’s not supposed to be easy! Just because you have to work hard and struggle doesn’t mean you’re not cut out for it. Also, engage with your science outside of class! Going to cool non-required talks and events reminds me why I’m doing my problem sets.
We hope you enjoyed this column! If you know of any awesome women in STEM at Columbia whom you think would be a great subject for this column, please email us at email@example.com.