Since graduating in 2015, Freya North-Hickey has propelled herself into every opportunity available to her, which has now paid off with international recognition within her field.
Freya’s aspirations started small. She enjoyed maths and physics at Safety Bay simply for the problem-solving. Now, Freya is still solving problems, just on a much larger scale.
Freya and her astronomy peers were recently awarded the Newcomb Cleveland Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Their research paper was focussed on Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), which are radio emissions from outer-space that only last for milliseconds. It is not yet known what causes FRBs, but they are significant because we can use them to learn about other galaxies.
Freya and her team were the first people to trace an FRB to its origin with incredible precision, which she describes as “like identifying an apple on the face of the Moon”. The host of this FRB was a galaxy three and a half billion light years away!
Despite the complexities of her research, Freya is very modest about her achievement. “I’ve been surrounded by a great team of peers, who have really supported me through my studies. It would be impossible to complete any of this work on our own, so collaboration is really important”.
When asked about her pathway into astronomy, Freya said she originally wanted to go into nursing. However, after her first class of Human Biology, she decided it wasn’t for her. She walked straight into Mrs Hudson-Brown’s office and changed to physics. After that, she said the teachers at Safety Bay were the ones that pushed her to challenge herself.
After high school, Freya started an undergraduate degree in Science at Curtin University, majoring in physics. She was still living in Rockingham at the time and said that her commute used to take her upwards of an hour via train. However, she used this as an opportunity to study on the train and then spend full days on campus.
Her next step was to apply for honours, where she chose to specialise in astronomy. Freya’s supervisor at the time then gave her the opportunity to be a collaborator on this research paper.
Freya is now completing her PhD, which is focussed on investigating FRB host galaxies. This is a large task, because it requires her to look at the stellar population (the amount of similar stars within the galaxy) and the rate at which stars form.
Hear more about Freya’s achievement in her own words: