Anne-Marie Weijmans

Astronomer

  • BORN 1981Boxmeer, Noord-Brabant, the Netherlands
  • WORKED Leiden University (the Netherlands), University of Toronto (Canada) and currently at the University of St Andrews (Scotland)
  • HONOURS STFC Leadership Fellow in Public Engagement (2018 – 2021); Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, University of St Andrews (2015 – 2017); Dunlap Fellowship, University of Toronto (2009 – 2013); PhD in Astronomy, Leiden University (2009)

Artistic Connections

I play the oboe, and I’m quite an active amateur musician! I play in the chamber orchestra and the baroque ensemble of the University of St Andrews, and you can also find me in the orchestra pit for Gilbert and Sullivan performances. I started the Shine project to combine science with music and art, and when Frances Lynch approached me for the Echoes project on Scotland’s Superwomen of Science I did not have to think long before saying yes.

MUSIC

SOUND FILES COMING SOON!

Education

In high school my favourite subjects were maths, physics and chemistry, so I knew quite early on that I wanted to go into science. When I then discovered you could study astronomy at University I was sold, as this field combines all of these three subjects. I did my undergraduate at Leiden University (combined BSc and MSc), and after graduating, stayed on to continue in astronomy with a PhD.

Occupations

Astronomer

I started my astronomy career in 2005, when I was hired as Assistent in Opleiding (Dutch version of PhD student) at Leiden Observatory, to map dark matter in nearby galaxies. I’ve been an astronomer ever since!

Maths Tutor

When I was a student, I was a maths tutor and helped high school students prepare for their exams.

Bread corner in supermarket

My very first job, in a small seasonal supermarket at a camping site. I still have a small scar from when I accidently walked into a very hot baking tray full of croissants…

Scientific Achievements

I want to understand how galaxies, like our own Milky Way galaxy, form and evolve. I study the movement of stars and gas in galaxies, and use these to better understand the structure of galaxies, and to map the invisible dark matter halo that surrounds them. I work in a large international team of astronomers, using observations of the Sloan Telescope in New Mexico (US). I coordinate the data releases for this team, helping to make sure that everyone has access to the observations so that everyone can work on their science.

Did You Know?

I knit, anything from socks to sweaters.

AN INSPIRING WOMAN

When I teach first year astronomy, I always talk about Henrietta Swan Leavitt. She started her astronomy career as a ‘human computer’, to analyse photographic plates with observations collected at telescopes. She discovered that a certain kind of variable stars called Cepheids could be used to determine accurate distances in the Universe. Her discovery was later on used by astronomers such as Edwin Hubble to show that the faint nebulae observed in the sky were actual galaxies outside our own Milky Way, thereby vastly increasing the size of the known Universe at that time. We still use Cepheids up to this day to determine astronomical distances.

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