Dr. Parshati Patel is an Indo-Canadian Astrophysicist, Science Communicator, and Educator, who currently manages the Public Education & Outreach Program at the Centre of Planetary Science & Exploration and is an Adjunct Research Professor in the Faculty of Education at Western University.
CosmosNow – Hello Dr. Parshati! Welcome! We are honored to have you in this interview. We hope to get some amazing answers from you!
Dr. Parshati Patel – Thank you CosmosNow! I’m more than happy to answer your questions.
CosmosNow – Where did the passion for astrophysics and space science begin? When did it all start?
Dr. Parshati Patel – It all started when I was around 12 years old and I visited the Nehru Planetarium in Mumbai with my family. We saw the Planetarium show and I was very intrigued by everything. I had so many questions after the show that my parents bought me books from their bookstore in the hope it would answer my questions. I ended up buying a lot of books on astronomy after that trip to satisfy my curiosity. It wasn’t until my aunt from Canada bought me a small telescope. The first time I saw the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn from my terrace in Ahmedabad, I knew at that moment this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life! It all started with a visit to a planetarium.
CosmosNow – Either as a kid or now as an astrophysicist what fascinates you the most about space?
Dr. Parshati Patel – The universe is so vast and mysterious that everyone who studies it is in awe of the complexity. As a teen, the shear of the night sky and the objects in the sky fascinated me. Now as an astrophysicist what fascinates me that each small mystery that we work on can help transform our understanding of the universe we live in. The most interesting aspect of studying the universe and its various components is that these discoveries help people back on Earth in ways never imagined before. Various technologies that everyone uses daily are all result of space exploration. These technologies (often called Spin-Off Technologies) include FitBits, cameras in the cellphone, Global Positioning System (GPS), water filters to name a few. It might be hard to believe for some, but exploring the universe has direct implications on our current and future lives here on Earth.
CosmosNow – If you would go somewhere else in the universe other than Earth to experience and explore where would you go?
Dr. Parshati Patel – Wow! There are so many places in the Universe I would like to go, one of the places which intrigue me more than anything is to go close to a black hole. Although I would not want to go in it but a close approach would be awesome. The sheer power of the back hole and the accretion disk would be a sight to die for (pun intended).
CosmosNow – In your journey of becoming an astrophysicist which thing has transformed you and in what way?
Dr. Parshati Patel – My journey to becoming an astrophysicist has included lots of ups and downs but I think it has made me more humble about where we as humans fit in the universe. We are a small speck in the vastness of the universe! We are made of the elements such as carbon, iron, nitrogen etc. These elements were created either in the stars during their life or their death and are found throughout the universe! These may sound simple facts but has profound impact on our understanding of ourselves as well as our place in our universe.
CosmosNow – Is there any particular topic or issue that you would like to drill down deeper into?
Dr. Parshati Patel – I find planet formation and start formation extremely fascinating. We are still far from knowing quite a lot about how our own solar system formed. If I had more time, I think I would love to dig deeper in that mystery. Another topic that has recently piqued my interest is public’s perspective on the universe. In the era of flat-earthers, I am very keen on knowing what the basis of public’s view on the universe is, especially among the youth.
CosmosNow – Your opinion about India’s Contribution to science particularly in space science and Astronomy.
Dr. Parshati Patel – India is strong in astronomy and space science with great expertise based all over India and abroad. Our track record has been great thus far and as a developing country, we have great achievements in the field of space science that we can be proud of! Our current and upcoming missions and projects, such as Chandrayaan-2, ASTROSAT, Mangalyaan, Gaganyaan, Aditya L-1, is allowing us to strengthen our research and development for our current and future generations. Indian Space Research Organization along with various other organizations is gearing up their communication and public engagement to inspire the next generation. These efforts on both fronts allow for a very strong future in the field of astronomy.
CosmosNow – What you think about Indian children lagging behind in space science by their counterparts in other countries? What’s the problem and what’s the fix?
Dr. Parshati Patel – It has all to do with awareness about the field. This includes awareness about what this field encompasses, possible careers in this field, and why one decides to pursue research. Organizations and the government need to fund and support outreach programs that bridge this gap and generate awareness about the field and its impact on their daily lives. We also lack role models. It is critical for youth and students to see real-life scientists of all ages and be inspired by their journey. There needs to be a great emphasis on developing science communication skills for scientists and offer them opportunities to reach out to urban and rural communities. Most of the research conducted by the scientist is funded by taxpayers and it should be made mandatory for scientists to share their research with the citizens of the country. The combination of fuelling the outreach efforts and showcasing role models can help students visualize themselves working and contributing to one of the most fascinating sciences.
CosmosNow – If we had some way to communicate with physicists or astrophysicists from the past, whom would you ask your doubts or queries?
Dr. Parshati Patel – I have been fortunate to meet various trailblazers throughout my career. There are definitely quite a lot of people I wished I had a chance to meet. One person I would love to meet would be Kalpana Chawla. Though she is not an astrophysicist or physicist, she is an inspiration for me, and I would like to hear from her about her journey as well as her struggles of getting to the position that she did. For someone particularly in astronomy or physics, Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking would be my top pick. Both had incredible minds with the view of the universe that has been unparalleled. An opportunity to have a conversion with them would be something I have dreamed of.
CosmosNow – One question about one of the biggest mysteries of the universe- What do you think was around before the Big Bang?
Dr. Parshati Patel – Scientists require evidence for any hypothesis they layout. We currently do not have enough evidence to even speculate what existed before the big bang. Thanks to the latest technologies and our ability to study the universe in such great depth, it is only now we can unravel the mysteries of the big bang. We are still eons away from determining what existed before the big bang. One day, hopefully in my lifetime, we will unpack that mystery as well.
CosmosNow – Since you manage ‘Education and Public Outreach Program at Western University’ can you please tell us more about the program?
Dr. Parshati Patel – I have been leading the Institute of Earth and Space Exploration’s Education and Public Outreach program at Western University for the past 4 years. I develop, manage and coordinate various outreach initiatives led by the Institute in the field of space science and technology. These initiatives ensure that the public is aware of the research being conducted in this field as well as engage and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. The initiatives include classroom workshops, summer programs such as camps and academy, Western Worlds podcast, public events, educators training sessions as well as citizen science websites and databases. In addition to developing and managing the programs, I actively research the impact of the outreach programs and workshops on the youth participants to understand and gauge the engagement as well as their outlook on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers and interest in STEM fields. My job also entails being in charge of social media and on several occasions talking to media about astronomical phenomena and research, and initiatives undertaken by the Institute.
CosmosNow – What would be your message to all the young curious minds out there?
Dr. Parshati Patel – Never stop exploring and learning! Be curious and persevere to ensure that you are quenching your thirst for knowledge. Seek out role models and mentors, connect with them and use their experience to guide your curiosity. People tried to push me into conventional careers, but I made sure that I went for my passion with patience and perseverance. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not good enough or you should not pursue your passion. If you are passionate about something, make sure to divert all your hard work and efforts in pursuing that dream.
CosmosNow – Thank you so much Dr. Parshati for such amazing and inspiring answers. We are sure that our audiences will find this inspiring too!
Dr. Parshati Patel – Thank you CosmosNow for featuring me. It was really a fun time answering the questions!
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