Sara Seager is an astrophysicist and a professor of physics and planetary science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is known for her pioneering research on exoplanets and their atmospheres. Her research has introduced many foundational ideas to the field of exoplanets; planets orbiting stars other than the sun.
She is now at the forefront of the search for the first Earth-like exoplanets and signs of life on them and is pursuing exploration of Venus as a habitable world. For her research Professor Seager was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant, and has Asteroid 9729 named in her honor. Professor Seager is the author of, “The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir”.
What do you get up to outside of the institution? "I've always loved the night sky. In my free time I spend time with my dog and husband. Sometimes I do hard hikes with my sons."
Could you give us a bio of yourself? "I am rather alone amongst my colleagues, because I never wanted to be an astrophysicist. Growing up, I was adamant I would be the one to decode ancient hieroglyphics and find lost tombs buried in the Egyptian sands. One day, though, I stumbled upon the subject of cosmology and I read about the vast size of the Universe in space and time, how the Universe began with a Big Bang, and how we had a missing billion-year gap in our knowledge of the first stars, galaxies and black holes.
Having found the ultimate lost tomb, I devoted myself to opening the sealed door and have been in search of the first stars to light up our Universe ever since. I observe that time using huge radio telescopes, brush away the noise of our own Galaxy, and decode that ancient light. When we find this light, we will finally say we understand the history of our Universe."
Emma released her first popular science book in 2020, ‘First Light’, and she has been the recipient of multiple commendations and prizes, including the Royal Society Athena Medal. Emma is a respected public commentator on astrophysical matters and gender equality issues in the sciences, regularly speaking at public events and via the media.
And what do you get up to outside of the institution? "I am passionate about sharing the wonders of space and discovery with anyone who will listen. I speak to all different audiences: parent-and-baby events, open days, radio and TV, and groups of retired individuals wishing to dabble in amateur astronomy, to name a few.
I am a mother of three and they stretch my outreach skills daily. Kids love space and I find they ask the best questions, “What does the Universe expand into?” for example. My free time is spent reading, both fiction and non-fiction, including popular science and astronomy. There is always something more to learn!"
Could you give us a bio of yourself? "As a kid I was fascinated by physics's power to make sense of a complicated world by breaking it down into simpler and simpler pieces. So it's not surprising that I ended up as a particle physicist.
My subject is all about trying to understand the world in terms of its most fundamental building blocks and the laws that govern how they behave. Understanding atoms, the particles that make them up and the forces that hold them together is arguable humankind's greatest intellectual achievement, but there's still so much we don't understand.
I work on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, where we are trying to discover new particles that could help solve some of the biggest outstanding mysteries, like what dark matter is or why the universe contains anything in the first place. I also spend a lot of my time sharing my passion for physics through talks, articles and most recently, popular science books."
And what do you get up to outside of the institution? "I often find my best ideas come to me when I've stepped away from work for a while. I find walking, particularly in the Scottish Highlands, hugely relaxing. I'm also a keen, but not especially talented, runner and squash player."
Could you give us a bio of yourself? "I had a relatively late start to astrophysics — I began studying the topic as an undergraduate student, and I had wanted to be a medical doctor my entire life (I didn't actually know the order of the solar system planets — or what a PhD was — just a decade ago)! But, I found that I was always asking "why" and was really drawn towards very fundamental questions of understanding the reasons why various aspects our Universe look and behave the way that they do.
Over time, I have also come to recognize the study of astrophysics as an incredible way to embrace just how remarkable the world and our Universe are. I'm especially excited about the study of the outer solar system because it is such a nearby and yet evasive and mysterious frontier.
We so often assume that we already know just about everything that there is to know about the solar system, with just some minor details left to sort through. But what if we don't? There's an incredible amount of possibility that remains, that can teach us both about our home planetary system and the countless extrasolar systems beyond."
And what do you get up to outside of the institution? "I love to immerse myself in all of the beautiful parts of life, which manifest in various ways — I spend much of my free time reading about art and design/visiting art galleries; I love to hike and lift weights to extend my physical limits; and I enjoy traveling and discovering new lenses with which I can view and expand my perspective on the world.
I also enjoy eating bread, immersing myself in a great cup of coffee or glass of wine, and, of course, examining and exploring the unknowns of planetary systems."
For centuries, we have been looking up to the sky to understand the mysteries that surround us. The sky might hold the answers to some of our deepest questions such as where we came from. But what do we know so far?
Professor Sara Seager is a pioneer in vast world of exoplanets & the search for other life in the universe. In this Garden Talk, Sara will consider space science's biggest question: Are we alone in the universe?
400 million years after the Big Bang, the Universe was very different from what it appears today. At that time (around 13 billion years ago) the universe was dark and empty. But how can we know that? Is there a way to travel back in time?
We are all surrounded by an unseen, invisible world; a world made of mysterious substances that we can’t see or touch: the Dark Universe. But if we can’t see it, touch it, or detect it, why do we think it is there?