Supernova Explosion
Supernova Explosion; Photo Credits: NASA

The Universe. One of the topics we have all been highly intrigued about since a young age. However, how much do we really know about it? Kishore Patra, a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Astronomy, shares with us how it is that he went from wondering about it as a kid to doing active research to find where it all came from. Patra explains that astronomy is more than just studying stars and galaxies; today, the field is particularly focused on theoretical modeling and data science, practices that help create some of the latest telescopes and aid astronomers in analyzing data more accurately.

He is currently studying supernovae explosions, the death of stars in the universe, particularly looking at the amount of polarized light that these generate. He explains that this can give astronomers a great deal of information about the geometry of the explosion — which helps paint the picture of explosions that happen in faraway galaxies and are not visible to us. When asked why it is that we study these phenomena, Patra explained, “If you look around you, everything in your room right now came from a star, including the elements of your own body. By studying supernovae we can answer some of the most fundamental questions of our origins. Where do all these elements come from and how were they scattered in faraway regions of the galaxy which eventually led to new stars.” 

One of his biggest accomplishments while at Cal is winning the Outstanding GSI Award with the astronomy department. As the head Graduate Student Instructor of Astronomy C10 in the Fall of 2019, Patra led a group of 16 GSIs and 16 graders, along with giving occasional lectures in Wheeler Hall to the 850 students enrolled in the class. One of the many things he learned during the process of teaching was what his own knowledge gaps were. Coming from a physics background, the transition into astronomy was not difficult, however, there was still a lot to learn. Being able to teach this class helped make the transition easier for him as he learned along with the students.

When researching different graduate schools, he found that Berkeley had the perfect balance between theorists and observers. A theorist being someone especially focused on the computational and measurable side of astronomy — building simulations of how a star explodes, for example, and analyzing the data from it. While observers gather their own data by observing the universe through telescopes and other instruments. Since he had not decided which of the two paths to follow, he believed Berkeley would give him the most freedom and resources to explore both. 

After graduation, he expects to remain in academia in order to continue teaching and conducting research, as this is what he most enjoys. Despite astronomy being a highly competitive field, he hopes that wherever he ends up allows him to keep sharing his passion with others.

Paulina Gutierrez is an Editorial Assistant with the Graduate Division.