Hello! My name is Stephanie Podjed. I am an aspiring astronaut and 6th year PhD student in the Physics and Astronomy Department studying active galaxies in the Hickox research group here at Dartmouth College. My current project uses telescopes from around the world to collect data on a specific type of object called a blazar – a very massive black hole that actively eats matter from the central region of the galaxy it resides in with jets of plasma and charged particles moving nearly at the speed of light pointed toward Earth. We can picture this as being similar to a beam of light pointing away from the black hole, like a lighthouse. For the blazars I study, I analyze signatures in the optical light (i.e., visible to our eyes) and level of polarization (the direction/orientation of the light) in order to better understand their underlying make-up. This includes the geometry of their very small emitting region and characteristics of the magnetic field that runs through their jet.
I grew up in the city of Destin up in the panhandle of Florida. I was fortunate to be able to take science classes from elementary to high school and in 12th grade I took an earth science class that had an astronomy unit. I’ve always been fascinated by the beautiful images NASA and other space companies share, as well as t.v. programs dedicated to space and space exploration, so that class in high school added to my curiosity and influenced my decision to become the first person in my family to go to college. I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Florida, where I double majored in astronomy and physics and minored in French and Francophone Studies. Before deciding to continue exploring what it is like to be a scientist by going to graduate school, I worked in the service industry as a member of the culinary department of a grocery store. When I’m out of the office, I love to read, cook, travel, workout, do art, volunteer, and spend time with my two cats, Margot and Jacques. As a SEPA mentor, I am excited to engage with younger learners to get them interested and involved in science, showing them how accessible science can be and that anyone, themselves included, can participate in STEM.