Driven by curiosity, SFU Physics student finds her space at the Trottier Observatory

June 11, 2024

If you’ve visited the Trottier Observatory or tuned in to its livestream, you may recognize SFU Physics alumnus Indira Janzen as a frequent host of Starry Nights.

“I remember when I was in grade two, looking at a book that had pictures that Voyager had taken of our solar system and being amazed at the fact that we were not the only planet out there,” she says.

Janzen doesn’t recall having many friends in high school, but she connected with her physics teacher, Mr. Dueck, because she found his enthusiasm for astronomy inspiring. “He is a huge space and physics nerd,” she says, “but instead of shying away from that he leaned into it and owned it as a part of who he is.”

Through Mr. Dueck she became involved with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, which meets regularly at SFU. While still in high school, she was able to get involved with an astrophysics project at the Trottier Observatory with SFU Physics professor Howard Trottier.

M82, aka the Cigar Galaxy, an image that Janzen helped produce with Howard Trottier. Learn more about this image and other observations at the Trottier Observatory.

“Howard inspired me a lot during my experience at SFU because of his approachability, amazing teaching skills and seemingly endless knowledge of physics,” says Janzen. “I want to be like Howard and inspire the community like he did.” She has been working at the observatory ever since, as a host for public outreach events.

“I feel more comfortable being myself within the astronomy community because of the diversity it has,” she says. “I feel it is the most welcoming community because I am able to geek out, ask questions, and get things wrong sometimes but still feel accepted.”

At Trottier Observatory events and through leading Science in Action workshops she’s made it her mission to inspire more women and girls to consider STEM. “Women and women of colour are still massively under-represented in physics,” she says. “Even in my last year of schooling, I was either the only woman in my class or one of two women.”

“I started to grow curious about astrophysics when I was in elementary school. I believe that starting at that age is a great way to make an impression on girls and maybe inspire them or even just drive their curiosity as to what the field of physics is all about!”

Janzen is the first woman from her family to complete a university degree and is cheered on by her nani-ji (maternal grandmother), who didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. “I hope to make my family proud,” she says.