SFU Physics welcomes new Astrophysicist

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August 30, 2019

Joanna Woo joins the SFU Department of Physics this fall as a teaching faculty member with the additional responsibility of overseeing the Trottier Observatory. 

Woo, an astrophysicist, will be teaching Phys 385 - Quantum Mechanics this term and co-teaching Phys 190 - Introduction to Astronomy with Howard Trottier in the spring 2020 semester.

She will gradually assume the management of the Trottier Observatory, the popular Starry Nights program and astronomy outreach workshops as Mr. Starry Nights, aka Howard Trottier, retires.

Woo is a born and bred Vancouverite who most recently held a postdoctoral position at the University of Victoria. She has been interested in astronomy since she was about 11 years old, “Likely due to a family obsession with Star Trek” she says. “I got my first telescope at around that time and managed to find several deep-sky objects, even through the light pollution of Vancouver.”

She went on to complete a B.Sc. in Astronomy at UBC while working part time at the HR MacMillan Space Centre and overseeing the UBC Astronomy Club. She continued post graduate studies in Jerusalem where she completed an M.Sc. in Physics and a Ph.D. in Astrophysics at the Hebrew University.

Woo not only learned to read and write in Hebrew and Arabic but upon her relocation to Zurich Switzerland for postdoctoral studies she also picked up Swiss German.

Her research centers around galaxy evolution; how they form, grow and die. She says, “I attempt to answer these queries using a variety of tools such as the MUSE instrument at the European Southern Observatory.” Woo explains that the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) located at the European Southern Observatory in Chile is a new tool that can measure and provide intricate details about stars and gas so that a 3D image can be rendered.

Find out more about this multilingual astronomer as she answers some fun questions. Or better yet, sign up for Phys 385 or join her at a Friday evening Starry Nights event, weather permitting.

This is your first professorship, what are you excited about?

I'm excited about inspiring young people to wonder about the universe and our place within it.  I'm also excited about all the fun projects we can do with the Trottier Observatory.  I feel like a kid getting a new toy for Christmas!

Do you have any ideas of how you would like to steer the Trottier Observatory outreach programs?

I do have a few ideas, but I'd like to stay mum about them until they become more of a reality! :)

What is the first thing on your "to-do" list?

One of the first things I did was to play with the telescope and make some pretty pictures!

What is your greatest extravagance?

My spouse and I did a round-the-world trip for our honeymoon.   

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Holding hatred against another person, and being consumed with the desire for revenge.

What was the smartest decision you ever made?

Doing a degree in a country where I don't speak the local languages.  And learning the languages.

What job would you be terrible at? 

Any job that involves keeping plants alive.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Chocolate ice cream and a good book, with a purring cat snuggled next to me.