What is your role in the DESI project?
I am a second-year PhD student and I help test the algorithm which assigns our 5,000 robotically-controlled fibers to targets. I also search for intrinsic alignment in DESI galaxies and am part of the outreach team! Most of my time is spent figuring out the best way to condense a lot of different information into a format that’s easy to communicate—whether it be summarizing the results of fiber assignment, finding a good statistic to quantify galaxy alignment, or explaining a cosmology idea to the public.
Where were you born? Where do you live now? What are the interesting places that stand out that your work has taken you to?
I was born in Kenya but spent most of my life in Colorado. Now I live in Massachusetts, where I’m attending school. A few years ago I got to spend a summer on the big island of Hawaii and observe on one of the largest telescopes in the world! That was a very memorable adventure, and since then I’ve been able to go back twice thanks to astronomy.
What would you say is the most interesting or exciting thing about your job?
I’ve only been working on cosmology for a year, so for me the most exciting part about my job is that I’m learning something new every day. I get to explore the details of fascinating questions: How did the universe begin? How is it structured? What’s the deal with dark energy? And get paid for it! Being part of DESI, I also really enjoy getting to collaborate and make friends with astronomers all over the world.
Any advice for aspiring scientists?
You don’t have to be a genius to be a good scientist. I’ve loved astronomy since kindergarten, but up until my first year of college I was certain that I wasn’t actually smart enough to be an astrophysicist. I eventually realized that persistence and creativity can go a long way, and I was smarter than I was giving myself credit for! The most admired scientists around me are not ones who immediately know the answer to every question, but those who have creative ideas and think about problems differently than others. Also learn to code.
Finally, what do you do for fun?
Play music! I collect different types of instruments and love learning new ones. My favorite right now is the pipe organ. I also like to bake—especially astronomy cakes.
Below is one of Claire’s marvelous creations in the shape of the Mayall telescope.
More of her creations here!