Vasily Belokurov of Cambridge University
Between the ages of 14 and 17, I was lucky enough to visit several of the biggest observatories in Russia and had the privilege to witness a solar eclipse twice. My school had extra physics and math lessons, and our teachers were truly amazing, so believe me, to many of my schoolmates the decision to go study physics at the university seemed like a no-brainer.
While in high school and during the first few years at Moscow State, I had plenty of astronomy classes, but, looking back, I think the real interest, the desire to do research in astrophysics, came to me much later. With no idea what to focus on, I started by dabbling in cosmology and relativity and ended up writing my first papers on gravitational lensing and microlensing. It is searching for extremely rare microlensing events that got me, in the end, into data mining and “survey slicing.” I am a survey scientist and a galactic archaeologist: I trawl through the data of massive sky surveys for clues to the formation and evolution of our Galaxy.
Today, exploration truly fascinates me. I enter the office every morning to uncover how the universe was put together. And then there’s creativity. No scientist can succeed without imagination, but only in astrophysics is the ability to fantasize about alien worlds a requirement and the skill particularly rewarded.