Swinburne astrophysicist and “cosmic detective” Dr Sara Webb is one of 60 scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians selected as a 2022 Superstar of STEM.
The announcement was made today by the Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic MP.
A day in the life of an astrophysicist
Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing (CAS) is home to some of the world’s brightest astrophysicists, including Dr Sara Webb.
Dr Webb joined Swinburne as an Astrophysics PhD Candidate in 2018 and is now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. She always knew she wanted to be a scientist of some kind.
“From marine biology to archaeology, I was obsessed with trying to understand the world and universe we live within. In my teens, I started listening to online lectures about astronomy and fell in love. It led me to enrol in a Bachelor of Science where I could minor in astrophysics,” she says.
Her days are spent researching, running programs for the next generation of scientists and talking about space in the media and on social media.
“Something that might surprise people is that computer programming is a large part of most astronomers’ jobs. There is so much data that if we dealt with it manually, it would take longer than most people’s working lives. That’s why we use supercomputing and machine learning to help us process data.
“But no two days are ever the same for an astrophysicist. Some days I am doing user testing in our Cyber-Human Discovery Lab, programming or processing data. On other days I can be in the biology labs or running the SHINE program,” she says.
Dr Webb helps coordinate Swinburne’s two high school space programs: the Swinburne Haileybury International Space Station Experiment (SHINE) and the Swinburne Youth Space Innovation Challenge. This involves teaching Year 10–12 students about space technology, and even create an experiment to send to the International Space Station (ISS). Last year’s winning team sent yoghurt to space!
Swinburne Chief Scientist and astronomer herself, Professor Virginia Kilborn, was thrilled to see Dr Webb given an even bigger platform to inspire our youth.
“I'm thrilled to see Sara join the Superstars of STEM program,” she says.
“Sara is an outstanding science communicator, and her new role as a Superstar of STEM will broaden her reach to inspire even more people to take an interest in STEM fields.”
Dr Webb spends a large part of her time programming the data from telescopes
What is a Superstar of STEM?
Superstars of STEM is an initiative of Science & Technology Australia funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Science and Resources.
Through a highly competitive selection process, the program selects 60 women and non-binary STEM experts and gives them the training, confidence, networks and experience to become sought-after media commentators as experts in their fields.
Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer, Misha Schubert, says the initiative is about building up role models in STEM for the next generation.
“We know it’s really hard to be what you can’t see. That’s why this game-changing program is helping to smash stereotypes of what a scientist, technologist, engineer or mathematician looks like,” she says.
“By becoming highly visible role models in the media, these Superstars of STEM are showing our diverse next generations of young people - especially our girls and non-binary kids - that STEM is for them.”
Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic MP, made the announcement of the 60 Superstars of STEM.
“The need to boost diversity in our science, technology, engineering and mathematics sector is urgent. There are huge skills shortages that can be addressed if we put our minds and collective effort to it – which means we have to draw deeply on our nation’s expertise from all corners of the community.
“I've always been a fan of the way the Superstars of STEM program pushes to deliver a diverse STEM workforce and ensures the next generation of scientists and technologists have visible role models.
“I just know these talented experts and communicators will play their part inspiring Australia’s young people – from all backgrounds – into science and technology.”
Follow on socials
Dr Webb is a media favourite – you’ll often see her on TV or hear her on the radio. She also creates superb TikToks and Instagram reels at @sarawebbscience.
With her new, official title as a Superstar of STEM, we’re sure to be seeing even more of her.
“Astronomy is one of those awe-inspiring fields that can get audiences of all ages interested in STEM. Astronomy was how I became a scientist,” she says.
“Sharing the joy of science has always been a passion, and I’m thrilled to do so via the Superstars of STEM program.”