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AstroPixie Conquers Cyber Space as Advocate for Science

Physics alumna Amanda Bauer is passionate about astronomy, blogging, and recruiting women to the sciences.

Date: 8/9/2010
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: Amanda Bauer
Amanda Bauer dreamed of traveling the world. So when she enrolled at the University of Cincinnati in 1997, she declared herself a French major.

Physics alumna Amanda Bauer.
Physics alumna Amanda Bauer has traveled all over the world in the name of astronomy. In 2008, she visited the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

But it was when she took an astronomy course with Physics Professor Mike Sitko to fulfill a science requirement that her focus left the world—and landed on the entire universe.

Physics alumna Amanda Bauer.
Bauer worked with science filmmakers on the project Sixty Symbols. She visited Ningbo, China in July 2009 to watch the total solar eclipse.

After watching Cosmos, a mini-series created by famous astronomer Carl Sagan, Bauer became enthralled with explanations about how the universe worked.

“I wondered why I had never seen anything explaining the universe so simply and understandably before,” she says. “The episode made a memorable impression on me.”

Sitko’s course on astronomy had such a profound effect on her, she decided to switch her focus to the sciences.

“My curiosities about the world and the universe felt unsatisfied without the observation, investigation and creative problem solving encompassed by science,” she says.

She took a summer research position with Sitko and hasn’t looked back since. After graduating with a BS from the Department of Physics in 2002, Bauer went on to the University of Texas at Austin to earn her master’s and PhD in astronomy.

Physics alumna Amanda Bauer.
Bauer, seen here at the Gemini South Observatory in Chile while Comet McNaught floated by in 2007, encourages women to study the sciences.

The “wonderfully ironic” part about her career path, she says, is that she originally came to UC as a French major to travel the world. “Through astronomy I have traveled to more places on the globe than I ever imagined I would.”

Those places include Germany, where she worked for four months at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics; Chile, where she spent time at the Gemini South Observatory; England, where she is finishing up a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Nottingham; and China, where she traveled solely to see the total eclipse of the sun at Ningbo.
“It was my first total eclipse and I felt like I was on another planet for 4 minutes and 20 seconds. The experience was amazing,” Bauer says.

Her trip was filmed for an online video project called Sixty Symbols, a collection of videos on YouTube about physics and astronomy explained by Nottingham scientists in such a way that the public can understand.

Letting young people—especially girls—know how accessible science can be is very important to Bauer. As an undergraduate at UC, she says she benefited greatly by being mentored by a female scientist, Physics Professor Margaret Hanson.

“I’m very grateful to Margaret for her inspiration, mentoring and friendship. Seeing her succeed, asking her questions, and receiving her support made me feel like I could be successful regardless of the types of people who typically pursue higher degrees in physics (a.k.a. white males).”

Along with speaking at local schools and working with Sixty Symbols, Bauer also runs a blog called AstroPixie. She created it in 2006 as a vehicle to help her with her scientific writing.

“I was amazed at how the readers absorbed explanations for real-world physical phenomena,” she says, “and noticed no gender bias among the readers who consistently commented and provided feedback.”

These days, Bauer can also be found on Twitter (@astropixie). After finishing her postdoc at the end of 2010 she'll add another continent to her list, as she has recently accepted a Super Science Fellowship at the Australian Astronomical Observatory.

She writes about the new position on her blog: “I feel like with the fantastic title of super scientist, I should be entitled to wear some sort of super hero outfit, but apparently capes are not advised. ;(“

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