Perth astrophysicist boosted by James Webb Space Telescope as he strives to measure galaxies


From a young age, astrophysicist Robin Cook had a deep desire to understand the world around him.

“It was never good enough to accept things at face value … I always wanted to understand the inner workings of things,” he said.

It was this natural curiosity that led him to pursue a career researching space and its unknowns.

“It’s not really surprising that I naturally went towards astronomy,” he said.

“And for me, that’s really exciting.”

Looking at the ‘beautiful spirals’ of galaxies

Dr Cook is a research associate at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), run by Curtin University and the University of Western Australia. 

Founded in 2009, the research centre undertakes data-intensive astronomy, engineering and science.

Dr Cook visiting some of the telescopes at the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observator
Dr Cook studies the structure of galaxies.(Supplied: Robin Cook)

Dr Cook’s area of research within ICRAR is on the evolution of galaxies, more specifically the structure of these galaxies.

“My specific area of research looks at … the shapes of galaxies, whether they’re these beautiful spirals, like our own Milky Way galaxy, or these massive elliptical mosh-pit-like galaxies, and galaxies have these different structures, these different shapes,” he said.

Dr Cook’s research process beings with asking questions.

“How can you go from a universe that started off as just clouds of hydrogen gas, the simplest element in the universe and then allowing 10 billion years of evolution, having galaxies with enormous amounts of structure and complexity?” he asks.

His role in developing the understanding of galaxy evolution is in measuring them, a task that he says can be challenging.

“Measuring the numbers and quantifying the shapes of galaxies is a really important thing and quite a difficult thing to do, so we spend a lot of time measuring them and … comparing them to different aspects of the galaxy and trying to understand ultimately, their evolution,” he said.

UWA astronomers eagerly await NASA’s reveal of the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope.
UWA astronomers eagerly await NASA’s reveal of the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope.(Supplied: Robin Cook)

Dr Cook’s research got an enormous boost last week when the world had the first glimpse of images from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the biggest and most powerful space telescope.


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