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Student story

Zachary Lane

31 August 2023

"I want to learn about the biggest mysteries in the universe..."

Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Physics, with a minor in Astronomy
Bachelor of Science with Honours in Mathematical Physics
Studying towards a PhD in Astronomy
Senior Tutor, UC


Why is Astronomy your biggest passion?

I am fascinated by cosmology, I love knowledge, and I want to learn about the biggest mysteries in the universe. There is nothing more exciting than the highest energy objects in space – and that is what I study.

What’s the best part about studying the universe?

I enjoy ‘solving the pule’. There is plenty of problem-solving in this field and trying to solve the issues you come across. As you get better you find more efficient ways to solve the problems and you can test yourself with harder challenges. I also enjoy the learning and wealth of knowledge I get to acquire. I want to become a lecturer one day in Astrophysics.

So what is it that you’re researching now in your PhD?

My research focuses on enhancing the standardisation of Type Ia Supernovae and Active Galactic Nuclei, as well as exploring deep-fields to find transient objects.

Most of my time I am managing data sets for analysis, having meetings with collaborators in different countries, and trying to find new patterns or inherent biases in cosmological data utilisation.

Sounds really complicated. What lead you to do your studies with UC?

I chose to study here for the opportunities and connections to astronomy that UC provides. We have more and more lecturers and researchers taking astronomy here every year! I also get access to the Mt John facilities and I can learn a strong practical skillset, alongside a theoretical basis.

Which opportunities have you experienced?

I did the PHYS391 summer course – I recommend students do it for the research skills and for personal development. I also found it useful in developing my connections, even within the University. I have also done the ASTR211 course as both a tutor and a student, where students get taught all about observational astronomy. I highly recommend this course as it gives great practical skills in astronomy and data analysis. I have also participated in a summer observational scholarship for the last two years (as both the student and tutor) where I was in charge of running the Mt John facilities, including operating and teaching MOA-II, the largest optical telescope in New Zealand.

I also am a member of PhysSoc, and I assist the New Zealand Students’ Space Association.

Now, I enjoy the opportunities as a tutor and the opportunity to do observational astronomy.

How do you recommend other students get into those experiences?

Make connections and take opportunities when they are presented. You get the best opportunities by putting yourself out there and talking to those in the field. Most of my tutoring jobs, scholarships, and opportunities have come by making connections with the staff and students.

I now get many exciting opportunities for study and outreach based purely on the connections I have made and my willingness to work hard and take opportunities. I have worked with IceCube Neutrino Observatory, space telescopes (TESS, Kepler, JWST), NASA (DART), Mt John Observatory, and more!

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