Astrophysics students land prestigious space scholarships

17 Apr 2024
Ryan and Katelyn
Katelyn Smith and Ryan White, recipients of the prestigious Uranus Program scholarship

University of Queensland astrophysics students Ryan White and Katelyn Smith have been awarded Uranus Program scholarships from the Andy Thomas Space Foundation.

The $10,000 scholarship allows each student to pursue an honours or masters research project to explore some of the strangest phenomena in the universe.

Mr White said he has utmost gratitude to the Foundation for investing in his work investigating Wolf-Rayet stars.

“These are massive stars in their death throes that produce some of the most energetic stellar winds in the universe,” he said.

“When two of these stars orbit closely with one another, their winds collide and produce beautiful spiral dust nebulae in the process.

“I focus mainly on the Wolf-Rayet binary star Apep, aptly named after the Egyptian god of chaos, which is one of the most extreme examples in an already unique class of stellar system.

“My research involves modelling the spiral nebula structure of this system closely with the data, and figuring out how to extract as much information as possible out of what we see.

“With this scholarship, I'll be able to devote more of my time to the research, working with collaborators at other institutions and promoting this work.”

Ms Smith hopes to use the opportunity to build up on her honours studies researching magnetic star-planet interactions.

“I’m keen to advance my studies with stellar magnetic fields – via a technique known as Zeeman Doppler Imaging – to improve our models for these interactions,” she said.

“Understanding this better could help us discover more about exoplanet habitability.

“I often think about how incredible it is that life came to be on Earth, so I’m deeply intrigued by questions surrounding the habitability of other planets.

“Currently, I don’t know where my research will take me in future – whether I will continue with exoplanets or move to galaxies or the expansion of the universe.

“I just hope that one day I am able to make a good contribution to whatever field I enter.”

Mr White said that they both look forward to sharing what they find with the public.

“I love the sound of ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s when I explain current astrophysics research – it reminds me that people really love space,” he said.

“Katelyn and I are endlessly fascinated with the universe; it’s constantly evolving all around us, giving us a steady trickle of information over entire human lifetimes.

“We’re hoping our work can add to that wonder.”

The students would like to acknowledge the support and tutelage of their mentor and current supervisor Dr Benjamin Pope.

More information about the Andy Thomas Space Foundation and their many educational support programs can be found on their website.

Media: Faculty of Science Media,, +61 438 162 687.