This is my group as of December 2022, and I am so happy about it.
About five years ago I came back to my home country, Chile, and joined the Astronomy group at Diego Portales University as a faculty. I had spent about 10 years in Europe making my career in Astronomy, and essentially all my colleagues at the time were from Europe. Very few people in my community knew about my new place, which was obvious since at that time, the group consisted on only 4 faculty, none of them working on stellar populations of the Milky Way.
The expectations to come to Chile were to build a group from scratch, to create a new PhD programme and to make a node in the Chilean network interested in Milky Way Science. It was a big challenge, which was exciting but also very scary. I had no idea how to attract young people to Chile, and how to collaborate with the Chilean society. I was afraid to loose contact with my European colleagues, to become isolated, and to not manage to create a competitive research group and PhD programme for the international community.
At the beginning it was just me. But relatively quickly I was able to obtain funding to hire postdocs and to travel such that I could offer students from other universities opportunities to work with me. After one year, in 2019, our PhD programme was launched, and the first PhD student 100% supervised by me arrived from Brazil.
The picture shows my group as of December 2022, and I am so proud of it. Despite the social instability of Chile and the uncertainties caused by the Pandemic, there is a young generation of courageous students that are embracing the adventure to spend time in Chile, helping me to move forward with my ideas and contributing with their own ideas. My research group is not isolated, the Astronomy group at UDP is now composed by 11 faculty, and we have a PhD programme with about 20 students, in addition to a fair number of postdocs. Furthermore, at UDP we are very international and gender balanced, which means it is great fun to go to UDP to work. Indeed, it is so much fun that it became easy to be a node in the Chilean network and I am now involved or leading projects with several members of other universities in Chile, where students and postdocs get to benefit from different supervisions.
This amazing group of students and postdocs is one of main main drivers to keep giving my best to Chilean science. Despite the complications of poor admin or IT support and infrastructure in Chile, the security issues on Santiago’s streets, the long distances from home for many, the high prices of essential goods, and all the other things in the package of “new place in Southamerica”, I believe we’re a very proud and happy team!
It is fun to learn about stars, to plan observations, to think about how to analyse them in the context of large datasets such as Gaia or the spectroscopic surveys, to find a way to implement phylogenetic trees to study galaxy evolution, to aim to get the most accurate and precise stellar abundances, etc. Each of us contributes, complementing with their skills, interests and personalities.
From left to right, Camilla Eldridge joined as a postdoc in June 2022 as part of the Millenium Nucleus ERIS, comes from the UK and her expertise is evolutionary genetics and bioinformatics. She is studying which phylogenetic methods apply to our problem of stellar populations and chemical evolution. Scarlet Elgueta joined as a postdoc in August 2022, working on a joint project with ERIS and the Millenium Institute MAS at Pontificia Universidad Catolica (PUC). She is chilean and did her PhD in Tokyo University on infrared spectra, and is very keen in understanding atomic data of heavy elements in the infrared. Sara Vitali comes from Italy, joined our PhD programme in August 2021 and is interested in understanding the evolution of the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy. She loves observing, and will spend the next semester at ESO Chile doing an internship to learn more about spectroscopy and the VLT! Kacper Mielniczuk visited us from Surrey University during 2022. He is polish and came to do his research project with us on stellar spectroscopy. Danielle de Brito Silva is the Brazilian girl that trusted us and came among the first cohort of students to UDP in 2019. She is studying the the accretion history of the Milky Way by observing halo stars in Las Campanas Observatory and analysing their chemical compositions to understanding their properties using also cosmological simulations developed at PUC as part of the ERIS collaboration. Kurt Walsen is chilean and is finishing his degree in mathematical Engineering at Universidad de Chile, and wants to apply mathematics in Astronomy. He arrived to my group thanks to the ERIS collaboration by applying machine learning in stellar abundances. Theo Signor is Italian and joined in March 2022 the PhD programme as part of a new joint programme we have with INRIA Chile. He makes Artificial Intelligence help us with the challenge of analysing large and multi dimensional stellar datasets.
Such a great team! I love it! I have nothing to worry about feeling isolated in Chile, or missing too much the activities happening in the Northern Hemisphere. I still have these connections, therefore I am very busy :)