COLOUR IN MY FIELD ASTRONOMY
I am Jayanne English and I was an attrition statistic. I’ll return to that after describing “colour” in my field — Astronomy.
One can accurately measure the colour of stars! One counts up the number of light particles (photons) in separate wavelength ranges of light and compares them, forming a “colour index”. This number indicates if a star is, say, hot since it would have more blue photons than red photons. This approach is extended to non-visible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, where we derive the “spectral index”. This measure of non-visible “colour” probes, for example, the magnetic field halos of galaxies.
Another of my passions is the motion of galaxies. Measuring a change in “colour” permits us to observe gas flows, apprehend how galaxies rotate and determine the amount of Dark Matter. We know that radiation at a single wavelength shifts towards a redder wavelength as the gas producing the radiation flows away from us. Measuring this Doppler Shift for the centres of thousands of galaxies demonstrates that the universe is expanding!
I explore both magnetic fields and motion in some of my astronomy public outreach images. I facilitated the Hubble Heritage Project and still produce images for NASA. My most recent collaboration with an artist, Emily Gong, was exhibited at Shenzhen Museum of Contemporary Art and Urban Planning. I am very honoured to have won the Qilak Prize for Outreach.
The 1970s were uncomfortable for a girl studying astronomy. I dropped out, eventually attending the Ontario College of Art. Immersed in an inspiring program with luminaries such as Ian Carr-Harris and the colour theorist Jacques Dagenais, I was also fortunate to attend the off-campus program in New York City. Using photographic installations and performance art, I explored chaos and cosmology. Since New Media didn’t exist I studied art and science sequentially. Returning to the University of Toronto for science after eleven years, I discovered professors now supported women and my male peers were feminists. Then, and during my astrophysics PhD at the Australian National University, I influenced science students to make and exhibit art. I still do that in my course “The Art of Scientific Visualization” at the University of Manitoba, where I am a professor of Physics and Astronomy.
Jayanne’s cosmos & canvas website
Recipient of the 2021 Qilak Award