Astrophysics-wise Rosemary Wyse is on top of her
by Young Chang
In her youth, she was a British Trekie. Now, astrophysicist
Rosemary Wyse is one among few women in the field,
and her work concerns the fate of smaller galaxies
within our Milky Way Galaxy.
Wyse, a professor in the department of Physics
and Astronomy at Hopkins, is currently studying
a small galaxy located near the Sagittarius Constellation
that is "invading" our galaxy. Pointing
to a large poster-sized illustration of the Milky
Way, Wyse is bright-eyed and animated as she explains
what exactly is happening in this particular region
She makes physics look fun. She talks about the
"little dwarf galaxies" in an enthusiastic,
patient tone, almost as if they are cute. She runs
her hand along the dusty poster of an artistically
portrayed universe as she explains, in laymen's
terms, the stars and dark matter inside these small
galaxies, providing a vivid, interesting explanation.
Words like "Galactic Center" and "Kepler's
Law" ring with an inviting sort of tinkle as
she pronounces them with a British twist. And all
the while, it is clear that she is enjoying her
Having spent her childhood in Scotland and completed
her undergraduate studies at the University of London,
Wyse obtained what she calls the "equivalent
of a Masters" at the University of Cambridge.
After remaining to finish her Ph.D. as well, she
moved to the U.S. for postdoctoral work at Princeton
and Berkeley. "To be a postdoc means to do
nothing but research," she says in a refreshing
British accent. Now in almost her tenth year at
Hopkins, Wyse is a full professor.
As a woman astrophysicist, Wyse is among the minority
in her field. She is unfazed, though, and in fact
"used to it," because she has always been
a minority, as far as gender is concerned. Wyse
recalls that even in her male-dominated high school,
even in her non-science classes, she was always
academically superior. "In Physics and Chemistry,"
she says smiling, "I was always top of the
class, and the boys weren't."
Astrophysics is reportedly one of the more female-abundant
branches of Physics, yet the percentage is a mere
10 percent. "All of my mentors have been men,"
she says, "my advisor was a man when I was
a graduate student, and my postdoctoral advisors
were all men. There are some men who are not sympathetic
to women in the field, but there are a lot of people
who are, and they're very supportive."
And for Wyse, astrophysics was more appealing than
Elementary Particle Physics and High Energy Physics
because she enjoys the individual effort. While
the latter branches are more "mathematical"
and costly in terms of experiments, Astrophysics
remains much more "physical." "It's
one branch of Physics in which an individual person
can make a big impact," she explains. "In
a lot of other branches now, it's much more of big
teams of people working together. I wanted to work
in something where I as an individual could make
a big impact...With the experiments you do in Astrophysics,
you as an individual can go and look through the
With her short mochaccino-colored bob and big round
eyes, Wyse is a kind, scientific, endearing woman
Astrophysicist. Physics is clearly her joy, and
teaching seems to be effortless.
The interview is formally over, the tape recorder
is off, and as she stands in the doorway to say
good-bye, she begins a lengthy explanation of a
small computer scan of our galaxy posted right outside
her door. For Wyse, being a full-time professor
is exactly that. She is a scientist and a professor
of science outside of the classroom, and as she
walks out a writing seminars reporter and a philosophy
major photographer, she just can't stop talking
about her galaxies.
and Astronomy Department at Johns Hopkins University