‘Cosmic sleuth’ Dr Sara Webb becomes a STEM superstar

Swinburne astrophysicist and ‘cosmic sleuth’ Dr Sara Webb is one of 60 scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians selected as STEM Superstar 2022.

The announcement was made today by the Minister of Industry and Science, MP Ed Husic.

A day in the life of an astrophysicist

The Center for Astrophysics and Supercomputing (CAS) in Swinburne is home to some of the world’s most brilliant astrophysicists, including Dr Sara Webb.

Dr Webb joined Swinburne as a PhD candidate in astrophysics in 2018 and is now a postdoctoral researcher. She always knew she wanted to be some scientist.

“From marine biology to archaeology, I was obsessed with understanding the world and universe we live in. As a teenager, I started listening to online lectures about astronomy and I fell in love. That led me to enroll in a bachelor of science where I could minor in astrophysics,” she says.

She spends her days doing research, leading programs for the next generation of scientists, and talking about space in the media and on social media.

“Something that might surprise people is that computer programming is a big part of most astronomers’ work. There is so much data that if we manually process it, it would take longer than most people’s working lives. That’s why we use supercomputing and machine learning to help us process data.

“But there are never two identical days for an astrophysicist. Some days I do user testing in our Cyber-Human Discovery Lab, program or process data. On other days, I might be in the biology labs or running the SHINE program,” she says.

Dr. Webb helps coordinate Swinburne High School’s two space programs: the Swinburne Haileybury International Space Station Experiment (SHINE) and the Swinburne Youth Space Innovation Challenge. This involves teaching students in grades 10-12 about space technology and even creating an experiment to send to the International Space Station (ISS). Last year’s winning team sent a yogurt into space!

Swinburne’s chief scientist and astronomer herself, Professor Virginia Kilborn, was delighted to see Dr Webb given an even bigger platform to inspire our young people.

“I’m thrilled to have Sara join the Superstars of STEM program,” she says.

“Sara is an exceptional science communicator, and her new role as a STEM superstar will broaden her reach to inspire even more people to engage with STEM fields.”

Dr. Webb spends much of his time programming data from telescopes

What is a STEM Superstar?

Superstars of STEM is a Science & Technology Australia initiative funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Science and Resources.

Through a highly competitive selection process, the program selects 60 women and non-binary STEM experts and gives them the training, confidence, networks, and experience to become sought-after media commentators as experts in their fields.

Science & Technology Australia chief executive Misha Schubert said the initiative aims to create role models in STEM for the next generation.

“We know it’s really hard to be what you can’t see. That’s why this groundbreaking program helps break down stereotypes about what a scientist, technologist, engineer or mathematician looks like,” she says.

“By becoming highly visible role models in the media, these STEM superstars are showing our diverse next generations of young people – especially our daughters and non-binary children – that STEM is for them.”

Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic MP announced the 60 STEM Superstars.

“The need to boost diversity in our science, technology, engineering and math sector is urgent. There are huge skills shortages that can be solved if we put our collective minds and efforts into it – meaning we need to tap deep into our country’s expertise in every corner of the community.

“I’ve always been a fan of how the Superstars of STEM program pushes for a diverse STEM workforce and ensures the next generation of scientists and technologists have visible role models.

“I just know that these talented experts and communicators will play their part in inspiring young Australians – from all walks of life – towards science and technology.”

Follow on social networks

Dr. Webb is a media favorite – you’ll often see her on TV or hear her on the radio. She also creates great TikToks and Instagram Reels to @sarawebbscience.

With her new official STEM Superstar title, we’re sure to see more of her.

“Astronomy is one of those awesome fields that can appeal to audiences of all ages in STEM. It was through astronomy that I became a scientist,” she says.

“Sharing the joy of science has always been a passion, and I’m thrilled to do so through the Superstars of STEM program.”

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