Growing up in a small regional town in Far North Queensland, Grace always had an unusual combination of passions — ballet and physics — and excelled in both. Although ballet was only a hobby, Grace competed in regional and national level competitions, completed her examinations and gained a ballet teaching qualification. You can see where this is going; even Grace’s hobbies are performed at their highest levels.
Physics has always been Grace’s ‘first love’ and she performed so well in her year 12 exams that a number of universities offered her scholarships. Grace says it was an easy choice to accept Swinburne’s merit-based Vice-Chancellor’s Excellence Scholarship because ‘Swinburne has an excellent physics program.’ Having graduated from her Bachelor of Science (Physics), Grace is now on her way to completing her Honours year.
Her sheer love of physics has propelled her toward some amazing opportunities, especially for someone whose career is just beginning. Associate Professor Alan Duffy and Professor Jeremy Mould introduced her to the world of dark matter and the Sodium-iodide with Active Background Rejection (SABRE) program. Working through the complex mathematics turned into the basis for her first year research and discovery project.
‘What’s the importance of knowing about dark matter? Dark matter and dark energy make up about 90-95 percent of our universe. Baryonic and other components are about five percent so the fact that we don’t understand most of our universe has such large effects,’ explains Grace.
Swinburne is a member of an international consortium of universities, research agencies and industry constructing the Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory, a kilometre underground at a gold mine in Stawell, Victoria. The lab will house one of only two dark matter detectors in SABRE project — the other is in Italy.
Through a recommendation from Professor Duffy, Grace found herself interning with the SABRE team at Princeton University. For seven weeks, she worked on producing high purity crystals — the defining feature of the SABRE detector. It was life-changing in more than one way.
‘Being at an Ivy League school as a second year student was a mind blowing experience,’ Grace says. ‘The team were incredible. They were so inspired by the work that it really passed down.’ She came back with a head full of new practical skills and a galvanised passion for the project.
Shortly after her return, Grace and her love of physics caught the eye of Swinburne supporters who generously decided to make a donation which funded a research internship to the Italian lab, the Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso.