Award-winning Trinbagonian astrophysicist and Stanford University fellow inspires future astrophysicists
Features > The Caribbean
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Dr. Alexandra Amon is an astrophysicist from the sister islands of Trinidad and Tobago. In June of last year, she won the Michael Penston Prize for the best doctoral thesis in astronomy or astrophysics completed in the United Kingdom during 2018 with her thesis titled, “Cosmology with the Kilo-Degree Lensing Survey.”
The Michael Penston prize, a very prestigious award, is presented annually by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in the United Kingdom.
Dr. Amon was also the 2019 runner up for the Jocelyn Bell Burnell Medal and Prize, which is awarded annually by the Institute of Physics in the UK for exceptional early-career contributions to physics by a very early career female physicist.
In an email interview with us, Dr. Amon humbly explained her role as an astrophysicist,
“I’m an astrophysicist, or more specifically, an observational cosmologist. Those are fancy-sounding words that just mean I spend my days doing scientific research to answer questions about our universe.”
Dr. Amon grew up in Maraval, Trinidad and Tobago, and attended St. Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain. She then attended the University of Edinburgh in Scotland on an island scholarship to complete a master’s in physics. Dr. Amon also completed her PhD at the same university and is currently a research fellow at Stanford University in the United States.
From a young age, Dr. Amon dreamed of becoming an astronaut. She noted that a major turning point in her life was when she attended the International Summer School of Young Physicists at the Perimeter Institute in Canada.
She described the experience as being “totally life-changing,” and that it gave her exposure to a career in astrophysics. Also, she realised that one way to become an astronaut was to pursue a doctoral degree. So to keep her options open, she decided to pursue a PhD.
Despite many challenges along the journey studying abroad, Dr. Amon remained grounded in her Trinidadian roots.
“Trinidad is a small place, but I think that the way we grow up there makes us ready for challenges anywhere,” she expressed.
She also noted that working in large international teams could be challenging at times, but growing up in diverse Caribbean communities with different cultures cultivates tolerance and acceptance of people with various backgrounds.
“Trinidad and the Caribbean are such melting pots of culture, that we grow up very accepting of people’s differences, and even valuing them! That’s a skill not to be under-estimated!”
Another challenge she faces while studying abroad is the lack of authentic Caribbean food.
Although, Dr. Amon thinks a general stereotype attached to being from the Caribbean is that we are “laid back,” she expressed that her upbringing taught her how to work hard as well as play hard.
In her free time, she enjoys doing outreach programs to spread her love of space. She also enjoys yoga, gardening, surfing, and any sport involving the sun.
An interesting detail she shared with us is that in the standard model of the universe, everything we know only makes up for 4% of its total mass. The normal observable matter, like the stars and planets, are just tiny fragments of the entire universe!
The other 96% of space, known as dark matter and dark energy, is still a mystery. As a cosmologist, Dr. Amon gets to work on solving this mystery. Currently, she works with an international team analysing vast amounts of data retrieved from a telescope located on a mountain peak in Chile.
Something important to take away from Dr. Amon would be her inspiring words of advice to aspiring astrophysicists from the Caribbean. She says to “work hard at the things you love,” and that “there is no replacement for hard work, and hard work is so much easier if there’s passion.”
She also stressed that during the journey, it is crucial to stay true to one’s roots.
“Along the way, stay true to yourself and your roots. It’s tempting to let that go to ‘fit in,’ but being from the Caribbean is unique, and minority opinions in these fields are valuable.”
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