Benjamin Metha

Benjamin Metha
Benjamin Metha, 2023 Doctoral Academy Fellow

Galactic Astronomy ...AKA..."Galaxies do not have the same metallicity everywhere!"

Prof Michele Trenti

School / Faculty:
School of Physics
Faculty of Science

PhD Details

In astronomy, the term "metals" refers to all elements other than Hydrogen and Helium. These elements were formed in stars. I look at high-resolution spectroscopic images of galaxies, and by looking at the distribution of "metals" inside galaxies, I try to figure out how and where stars have been forming in these galaxies, which tells us some information how these galaxies have been growing and evolving over time. To do this, I use statistical tools from a branch of mathematics called "geostatistics", which was developed in the 1960s in South Africa during the gold rush to figure out where the gold is distributed in a gold field. Replace gold with metals, and goldfields with galaxies, and you can use this same statistical approach to learn a lot about how the elements that are necessary for life have been produced throughout the Universe!

Q & A

Why did you decide to do a PhD?
I started my PhD in mid-2020 after finishing a masters' degree with my supervisor, Michele Trenti. Originally, my plan had been to take some time off after my masters' degree, and maybe do some travelling, or try to find a job somewhere. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were not a lot of jobs available, and travelling was not an option. Instead, my supervisor got me an internship with him, working in the Melbourne Space Laboratory developing some software to figure out how to build a shoebox-sized cryocooled telescope in space. After my contract expired, Michele told me "The work you are doing right now is basically what a PhD would be doing, and you can quit it at anytime, but we can fund you while you're looking for a job during the pandemic", and that sounded like a pretty good deal, so I said okay. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with the process of research, and the rest is history.

What do you enjoy reading?
Lots of things! My favourite genre is fantasy, and my favourite ever book series is His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. It's excellent for children and adults alike. The scenery, the metaphors, the characters -- everything about it is just *chef's kiss*. I could go on for a while, but I'll limit myself to two more recommendations. Firstly, The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is the most hooking, addictive book that has been published in the last twenty years. Buyer beware -- it's part of a trilogy, and the third book might not be out for a while! But I think it's still worth reading. Secondly, Nation by Terry Pratchett is an absolutely charming tale. It's a stand-alone story of a boy who lives on a tiny island in the pacific, whose entire community is destroyed by a tidal wave that also shipwrecks a mysterious girl from Britain. Together, they must rebuild his community and his Nation. It's deep and it's funny and it's beautifully written, with poignant messages on colonisation that are still relevant today.

What do you enjoy doing when you're not working on your PhD?
Reading fantasy books :P I also like to cook, camp, and travel, but my main hobbies are all about music. I play piano, accordion, and ukulele. I collect vinyls. I also frequent the many succulent offerings of the Melbourne music scene. I try to go out to catch a gig at least once a week, and so far this year I've been successful at that.

Name one fun fact about you.
Last year, I listened to 99,986 minutes of music on Spotify. I am still kicking myself that I did not listen to fourteen more minutes of music to crack the 100K mark.

Work, publications, and media