Future Women in Physics and York University’s Department of Physics & Astronomy are inviting students, faculty and community members to a lecture and Q-and-A session featuring astrophysicist and science communicator Katherine (Katie) Mack on Feb. 27. The free event, open to the public but with limited seating, will take place beginning at 6 p.m. at the Tribute Communities Recital Hall (Room 112, Accolade East Building) at the Keele Campus. The lecture will be followed by a tour of the Allan I. Carswell Observatory, which houses the largest telescope on a university campus in Canada.
The Big Bang Theory tells the story of the beginning of the Universe, our cosmic home for the last 13.8 billion years, however the story of the end of the Universe has yet to be written. In her 45-minute presentation titled “Death of a Universe,” Mack will share what modern astrophysics tells us about the ultimate fate of the cosmos and what each possibility would entail if there were people there to see it.
Mack, who describes herself as a “connoisseur of cosmic catastrophes” is a theoretical astrophysicist who studies a range of questions in cosmology. She received her PhD from Princeton University and is currently an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, where she is also a member of the Leadership in Public Science Cluster.
Throughout her career she has studied dark matter, the early universe, galaxy formation, black holes, cosmic strings and the ultimate fate of the cosmos. Mack is particularly interested in how the particle physics of dark matter – the mysterious invisible stuff that makes up most of the matter in the universe – can influence the evolution of stars and galaxies and what we might see in new observations as a result.
An active science communicator working to widen access to physics and astronomy beyond academia and traditional audiences, Mack’s efforts have amassed a huge following on Twitter (@AstroKatie) and inspired countless young scientists. Her popular-level book, The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), is available for pre-order.
Mack was invited to York University by Future Women in Physics (FWiP), a York-based organization that works to break down barriers and advocates for a diverse academic environment in the physics field. Their work involves organizing educational events, such as seminars, workshops and conferences, to broaden students’ horizons and give them access to role models as well as skills and knowledge needed for success.
According to Ariella Sapers, a third-year Physics and Astronomy student, vice-president of FWiP and student coordinator at the Allan I. Carswell Observatory, Mack is an intriguing guest for the York community in part due to the wide popularity of her subject mater. “Everyone wants to learn about the universe,” she explained. “Her research is incredible.”
Mack’s presentation also supports FWiP’s mandate by introducing a successful female role model in a predominantly male field to the next generation of scientists. “We’re so underrepresented,” Sapers said. “I think that a young girl applying to universities, if they see it’s such a male dominated program, it might intimidate them.” Sapers noted high dropout rates among students of physics, especially women. FWiP aims to address some of the challenges aspiring female physicists face. “We wanted to have an organization where you can meet women doing the things you want to do, and know that it can be done and you can do it.”
In addition to the lecture and Q-and-A session, FWiP is organizing a special breakout session with Katie Mack for high school students interested in astrophysics. While tickets to this event are free, registration is required and can be completed on the event’s website.