I discovered you can post pictures in answers to questions and now no one is safe
EducationChandag Junior School in Keynsham, then Prior Park in Bath, then Oxford University
QualificationsA buncha GCSEs, A-levels in Physics, Maths, Further Maths and Latin (which was awesome but which I have forgotten almost entirely. Sorry Mr Holland!) a masters degree in Physics, then a doctorate in Astrophysics. I probably have my old swimming certificates somewhere, too.
Work HistoryOther than research, I've done some summer jobs working with sonar systems at a company in Bristol, taught students about astronomy and wrote a few articles for a games magazine.
Current JobI'm a postdoc (i.e. someone who's finished their PhD and is bouncing around the planet until they find a more stable job)
The Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy in Amsterdam
Favourite thing to do in my job: I like changing my mind about everything I know about astronomy more or less every year
About Me: I'm an astrophysicist from Somerset working in Amsterdam. I play the harp, and I enjoy visiting the park herons. I've lived in France, Germany and the Netherlands, which makes my phone autocorrect very confused.
I grew up in Somerset in a small village between Bristol and Bath. We kept ducks and chickens. Since then I’ve lived in cities around Europe, from big cities like Paris (long commutes on the train, beautiful and fun but also everyone is angry all the time, smells of wee in the summer) to small cities like Heidelberg (very pretty but more boring, nice landscapes, I got into bouldering) and “medium sized” cities like Amsterdam (lots of fun except everything is closed for the lockdown, cycling is easy and fun, pretty if you like brick). I don’t have any pets unless you count the Amsterdam mice that keep breaking in to eat my toaster crumbs.
I speak pretty good French, okay German and bad Dutch. I used to play music for French folk dancing, got quite into bouldering and now cycle too far on a not great bike. Currently my pedals are “crunchy”. That’s fine, right? It’s fine.
I won the Extreme Speed Zone in 2013 and I am back to defend my crown in the Physics Zone. Gotta go fast.
My pronouns: https://pronoun.is/he
My Work: I run supercomputer simulations to understand how the most extreme stars in the universe are made, and how they make the gas in space glow pretty colours
OK so the universe started with the Big Bang, except this is a bad name for it made up by Fred Hoyle, who hated Big Bang Theory and had his own theory (which was wrong, so it goes). It’s more like the big stretching – space itself is stretchy and keeps stretching apart. Early on it was very small and hot, now it is big and not hot. At some point, the gas in space came together due to gravity and made galaxies like our Milky Way. Inside the Milky Way are more gas clouds that are collapsing under gravity to make stars. Some of these stars are so small they barely shine at all, some are medium sized like our Sun, and some are super massive and make so much energy they heat up the gas around them to make bright nebulae like the Orion Nebula below, which you can see if you have a nice telescope.
I work to understand how this energy from stars works and what it does to the universe. To do this, I use “supercomputers”, or really big computers. We can’t do laboratory experiments on stars (they’re too big!) so we use “simulations” instead, which are like complicated video games that explain how the universe works.
I work from home now, but I technically share an office with Zsolt. I left my cool space mug there, I should go rescue it sometime.
When I’m not working on my research, I help organise talks by other scientists, I share ideas with people across the world from the USA to Korea and occasionally I go for bike rides to get some fresh air during breaks or just lie on my bed watching YouTube.
Check out my work website here for more pictures and information: http://www.samgeen.com/
My Typical Day: It's the lockdown baby, you know what that means, I wake up, shower, go to the nearby bakery to buy breakfast, walk back through the park to visit the herons, and get back just in time to start my Zoom meetings. So many Zoom meetings. Then I make stars.
OK so I talked about breakfast (they do 4 croissants for the price of 3, so that’s not great for my lockdown figure), the herons (protip: young herons have grey heads, they turn black and white striped when they’re 1-2 years old), and a crushing number of Zoom meetings.
Once the meetings are done (or if I can safely tune out for a bit) I connect to supercomputers across the world to program them to make stars, which make a lot of energy and eventually explode. I then make pictures and graphs of the gas and stars to understand what happened, copy the pictures and graphs back to my computer and write reports for other scientists to read. I hate writing reports, but you gotta do it.
I also write pen and paper equations to understand how the energy from stars shapes the gas – you can still do a lot with GSCE and A-level maths! My next paper will be mostly equations that I then put into a computer to make pictures of.
I also send a lot of emails that other scientists ignore, make my own lunch because I’m working from home (noodles with a lot of sambal chilli paste, veggie burgers or one of the hundreds of eggs I have eaten since March). In breaks I like cycling around the city to see what’s up. To preserve my British roots I make pots of smoky tea that I drink during the endless Zoom meetings.
What I'd do with the prize money: Donate it to our institute's project to bring science to local schools
The neighbourhood around my work in the east of Amsterdam is a diverse neighbourhood with people from many different backgrounds, but the university is still struggling to get more students from different backgrounds. Our institute has a project to visit local schools to bring astronomy to them and enthuse the next generation about science. I will use the money to help them buy equipment to support their projects.
In 2013 I won the Extreme Speed Zone, and used the money to develop projects shown at the science museum in Paris, as well as buying a solar telescope for the GalileoMobile project to bring astronomy to children worldwide.
(will add more details soon!)
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Owl House Appreciator
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
I was always interested in space, and both my parents were scientists (well, a sonar engineer and a medical doctor). I also played way too many videogames as a kid, and learning game programming was possibly my gateway into using computers to understand the universe.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Not sports. I was not good at sports. I guess I miss art?
What did you want to be after you left school?
I liked a lot of things, and my dad convinced me that physics was a nice balance of things. I became a professional space simulator by accident - I had a project making movies of space simulations at university, and kept at it.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I was once chased through a field by a farmer and their dog at 3am, but this wasn't entirely my fault
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I was a big fan of Sim City as a kid and would be very happy designing public transport and cycle lanes
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Take your pick between French folk music, energetic Japanese pop or angry political music
What's your favourite food?
Other than French baguettes, I've been eating unfeasible amounts of sambal chilli paste over the lockdown
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Bouldering was hella fun in the pre-lockdown times, not that I'm good at it, hanging from a ledge like a cat stuck in a tree going "well"
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
More time for work, more time for myself, international socialism
Tell us a joke.
So they found that Venus is surrounded by phosphine gas, the Moon is dotted with water ice, and Mars is covered in chocolate