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Rosemary Wyse

Rosemary Wyse

(Physics and Astronomy Department at Johns Hopkins University)

Astrophysics-wise Rosemary Wyse is on top of her galaxy

by Young Chang
News-Letter Staff

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 of space.

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 work.

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 telescope."

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.

Other Physics and Astronomy Department at Johns Hopkins University