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Aussie astronomer wins top prize

Artist's impression of a pulsar

2011 Young Tall Poppy of the Year for NSW award recipient, Dr George Hobbs of the CSIRO, uses observations of pulsars (artist's impression) in the hunt for gravitational waves.

CSIRO ASTRONOMER Dr George Hobbs has become the 2011 Young Tall Poppy of the Year for NSW.

The award was presented at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney on Thursday 3 November. Dr Hobbs was chosen from a field of eleven Young Tall Poppies to receive the top honour.

The Young Tall Poppy Science Awards, given each year by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science, recognise excellent early career research and passion in communication and community engagement.

Dr Hobbs, based in Sydney at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, works on pulsars—small stars with regular clock-like radio signals.

Dr George Hobbs

Dr George Hobbs

He leads a program on CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope to search for gravitational waves, using pulsars as markers.

“Gravitational waves are ripples in spacetime,” Dr Hobbs said. “Einstein predicted them but they’ve never been observed directly.”

“Of course, we hope to be the first to do this.”

Engaging the next generation

Dr Hobbs is also a key scientist in an outreach program called PULSE@Parkes, which allows students to control the Parkes telescope over the internet and use it to observe pulsars.

CSIRO will use the experience of PULSE@Parkes to develop remote-observing education programs for the Australian SKA Pathfinder radio telescope it is now building in WA.

The Parkes radio telescope

The Parkes radio telescope

At a recent PULSE@Parkes session, students had the thrill of seeing a pulsar turn its signal on and off while they watched: a very rare phenomenon, occurring in just a handful of the 2000-odd known pulsars.

“Then I and the other scientist stood in front of the students and offered quite different ideas about why this might be happening,” Dr Hobbs said.

“They were seeing real science in action.”

In addition to these activities, Dr Hobbs also finds time to do other ground-breaking science, including a fundamental discovery about how pulsars work.

This year he was also named by the Chinese Academy of Sciences as an International Young Scientist of China, for his collaborative work with institutions in Xi’an, Urumqi and Beijing.

And what car does 34-year-old Dr Hobbs drive? A Nissan Pulsar, of course.

Adapted from information issued by CSIRO. Images courtesy David McClenaghan (CSIRO) and NASA.

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