27 August 2009

Tamara Davis receives prize for her hunt for dark energy

Astrophysicist Tamara Davis received the L’Oréal Australia prize for “Women in Science” for her groundbreaking research on the Universe’s dark energy.

Astrophysicist Tamara Davis.
Photo: Timothy Burgess

“Now we know that stars, planets, galaxies and all that we can see make up just four per cent of the Universe. About 23 per cent is dark matter. The balance is thought to be dark energy, which we know very little about.,” explains Tamara Davis, astrophysicist at the University of Queensland and the Dark Cosmology Centre at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen.

In 1998 the astronomer discovered that the Universe’s development does not occur at a stable tempo, and the tempo does not slow down. Rather, it is accelerating. This discovery required a complete rethink of the standard model used to explain how the Universe works. An unknown type of energy, dark energy, affects the Universe’s development.

Tamara Davis is on the hunt for this dark energy by studying supernovae. “Supernovae are extremely bright stellar explosions. Because we know how bright they are we can use them as ’standard candles’ to accurately measure distance and motion across the Universe,” Tamara Davis explains.

By using the Australian National University’s new telescope SkyMapper to measure the movement of supernovae, she hopes to gain a better understanding of dark energy. Tamara Davis hopes to detect invisible dark matter by observing the effects of its gravity.

Tamara Davis plans to use her $20,000 L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship to pull together an international team of scientists to work on this project. “I’ve been privileged enough to be a member of a number of fantastic teams in my career to date. The Fellowship gives me the chance to establish my own all-star team,” Tamara Davis says.