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Payton Rodman

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Payton Rodman
Bachelor of  Science with Honours 2018

You’ve just started your PhD, looking at black holes, and have recently been awarded the 2019 Gates Cambridge Scholarship. This is certainly an exciting time in your research career …

It has been very exciting. Cambridge [University} offers so much opportunity. What I’m looking forward to is meeting some of the people whose work I have read for a long time. That’s going to be quite interesting. It’s almost like meeting a superstar. The scholarship also offers me an opportunity to look at new ways of outreach, which I’m very passionate about, especially outreach in rural areas. I want to learn about new incentives and initiatives, and visiting students in their communities. The big thing I want to ask them is what do you need to get from where you are, to where you want to be - that’s what I want to know.

As a young child growing up in Ulverstone on the North West Coast of Tasmania, did you ever look up to the skies and wonder what’s beyond? Did this ignite your passion in astrophysics?

I had no idea what I wanted to do growing up. I wanted to be a doctor until Year 12 when I realised that I didn’t like biology. I’ve always enjoyed maths and physics. I enjoy solving puzzles - having all of those equations to figure out was always a lot of fun. In terms of being interested in space and astrophysics, I sought of fell into that.

Why study black holes in particular? What’s the importance?

My interest in black holes started when I was researching in the first year of my undergraduate study, and I’ve been fascinated ever since.  I did do some astrophysics courses, but I figured out early on that stars weren’t my preference. I find black holes intriguing, as it’s something we have no experience with. I was so impressed with the recent release of the first real imagery of a black hole.  What they were able to capture was amazing. Part of my PhD is looking at turbulence and instability in relation to black holes. The big thing is we don’t understand turbulence, we don’t understand chaos. There are no maths to understand chaos, so trying to find patterns there is helpful, not only for black holes but for other aspects too, such as nuclear reactors and submarines, anything that relates to turbulence. The good thing about physics is if you make discoveries around the black hole, you apply it everywhere in the universe.

Throughout your undergraduate study, you received several prestigious scholarships, including the Dr Peter Smith Scholarship in Physical Sciences, South 32 Temco Community Foundation Scholarship in Science and last year the Don Gaffney Scholarship. How did these assist in your studies?

The scholarships allowed me to focus on coursework and being able to create tutorial systems, but the big thing for me is the scholarships allowed me to focus more time on outreach, on tutoring and working with the Young Tassie Scientist program, which is important. Being a part of the program, allowed me to visit the North West Coast and connect with students there, and also be involved in Tastrofest, an astronomy festival held annually in Ulverstone, which is important to me.

What have been some of the defining factors in continuing your higher degree research studies at the University of Tasmania?

Studying at the University of Tasmania has provided so many great opportunities, as there aren’t too many universities in Australia where you could access optical and radio telescopes in the location that we have. I have also really enjoyed working with the people here as they are so personable. I’ve always found here that you’re treated like a future colleague and that has been so wonderful to be a part of, especially just starting out in my research career.

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