Katherine Mack

When she’s not working as a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Melbourne, Dr Katherine Mack writes articles for media publications, gives public lectures and interacts with the general public through her social media accounts especially via Twitter, where she has over 80,000 followers at the time of writing and is the most followed astronomer in Australia.

Adding another feather to her cap Mack is a recipient of the 2016 Excellence in Engagement – Public Value Award. Part long-term strategy of engagement and part personal passion, her drive to make science accessible to the wider community has contributed to the intellectual life of the public and scientific establishment. The construction of the Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory is a case in point. After the publication of an interview with The Economist in 2014, a mine manager contacted her to float the idea of building an underground dark matter detection laboratory. The project gained approval and funding from the state and federal governments, and has included the University’s School of Physics as a partner.

Katie Mack

Mack’s efforts to engender trust and appreciation for scientific research have also made her a role model for young people, especially women, who are interested in pursuing STEM disciplines. Her contribution to the University’s ‘Telescopes in Schools’ educational outreach program resulted in a workshop that brought in students from low socioeconomic metropolitan and regional schools to simulate a Mars mission.

Mack says she is encouraged and motivated that the award is a sign of recognition by the University about the importance of her work.

“The award means a lot - to me, it’s a signal that the University really values science engagement and wants to encourage staff to find creative ways to include the public in their work,” she says.

A dark matter detector and a cube-sat space telescope are some of the projects she is working on at the moment.  Mack expects both of them to “have a lot of public interest, so I’m thinking a lot about how to get the public involved in those.”

Ultimately, my goal is always the same - do what I can to make the Universe more understandable, both within the physics community and without. Katherine Mack

Banner picture © Demelza Kooij