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It's important to have fun with things.

Nora Shipp


Nora is an astrophysicist studying stellar streams, stretched-apart remnants of small satellite galaxies or star clusters around the Milky Way. Stellar streams hold clues about the history of our home galaxy and the dark matter that surrounds it.

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  • Has loved astronomy all her life

  • Started studying dark matter using gamma-ray space telescopes

  • Almost became a ballet dancer instead of an astrophysicist

Meet Nora Shipp, an astrophysicist at Carnegie Mellon University who will start as a new faculty member at the University of Washington in Fall 2024! Nora has always been interested in astronomy and answering big questions about the Universe, and she’s spent most of her scientific career studying the mysterious, unseen “dark matter” that makes up most of the mass in the Universe.

Nora began studying dark matter as an undergraduate at Brown University using gamma-ray telescopes like NASA’s Fermi. While her science focus has always been on dark matter, the way she studies it has changed over the years—most notably during her PhD at the University of Chicago, when she joined the Dark Energy Survey project and discovered her first stellar stream. And she was hooked!

Stellar streams are faint ribbons of small torn-apart galaxies or star clusters that record the history of gravitational interactions between stars, dark matter clumps, and even entire galaxies like the Milky Way. But stellar streams are exceedingly difficult to isolate from the many stars within the Milky Way—especially farther away, where the gravitational imprints of dark matter clumps become clearer and where Nora’s interests in studying dark matter’s properties lie! That’s why she’s excited for Rubin Observatory—Rubin’s huge field of view combined with its light-collecting power will change the game for finding faint and spread out objects like stellar streams, and enable studies of how dark matter has shaped them over millions or billions of years.

When she’s not doing science, Nora can often be found reading thriller novels or checking out new coffee shops. Every once in a while, she’ll revisit her ballet dancing days with a class or two. “I seriously considered becoming a professional ballet dancer,” she said. “[The end of high school] was sort of the one big point in my life where I almost veered off the path to becoming an astrophysicist.”

For her younger self, or any aspiring scientist, she had this piece of advice: “It's important to have fun with things. Even though [science] can be very stressful, if you're excited about it and working with people you enjoy working with, it makes things a lot easier.”

Lightning round Q&A: Get to know Nora better!

If you could live in any fictional universe, which one would it be?
Harry Potter, just because it was a big part of my childhood.

What is a food or a meal that you could eat for a week straight?
Cheese. Any cheese.

What would your Olympic event be?
If I went back and could train for a long time, gymnastics or ice skating would be cool!

What's your favorite season?
I really like spring. Especially when the sun is first coming out post-winter.

What is your most used emoji?
I like all the cute animal ones 🐶🦊🐻🐙

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