What is your name, affiliation, academic position, and job title?
Asta Heinesen, Niels Bohr Institute, Denmark, postdoctoral researcher.
What is your journey?
I did my undergraduate studies at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. I moved to the other side of the globe to do my PhD at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. I then moved to France to do a 4-year ERC postdoc at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon. I have very recently moved back to Denmark to work on an independent postdoc supported by the Carlsberg Foundation at the Niels Bohr Institute.
What is your field of research and/or what project are you involved in?
My field of research is relativistic cosmology. I am involved in projects that are addressing the pillars of modern cosmology from various perspectives. In particular, I have been analysing what impact it has on the geometric predictions for distances and redshifts in cosmology, once the translational and rotational symmetries underpinning most of the cosmological data analysis are broken. I have also worked with large compilations of supernova 1a and galaxy data to test concrete cosmological models, and for testing isotropy assumptions directly with the data.
In some of my most recent work, I have been developing model-independent frameworks for analysing cosmic data in the absence of assumptions about the underlying geometry of the Universe. I have worked with large numerical simulations in order to say something about which levels of anisotropy we may expect to see in distance measurements and redshift drift signals at various scales as conditioned on the model assumptions that we build into the simulations.
Briefly describe your career trajectory to date. What positions have you held, when and where?
Postdoc: Niels Bohr Institute, Denmark, 2023 – present.
Postdoc: Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon, France, 2019 – 2023.
PhD: University of Canterbury, New Zealand, 2016-2019.
What are your research plans?
My goal is to contribute to fundamental unsolved questions in cosmology, such as what could be the underlying description of dark energy and what is causing the model discrepancies, such as the Hubble tension, in the cosmological paradigm.
How does CosmoVerse fit within those plans?
CosmoVerse is exactly aimed at addressing the challenges and open questions in cosmology, so this aligns well with the visions of my research.
Which of your skills are you most proud of, or find most useful?
I think that mathematical problem solving and curiosity are my main skills. I have worked with collaborators who are experts in various aspects of data analysis and numerical simulations, and this has been a great inspiration and expanded my horizons in my research.
What new skills would you like to learn in the next year?
I would like to learn more about what goes on in the field of quantum gravity. I think that results here will ultimately be important for learning about the initial conditions of the Universe.
What are the most exciting open questions in your research area?
The nature of dark energy and why its energy density in the present epoch Universe is of order the Hubble parameter squared.
What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to?
Constraints on anisotropic signatures in distance-redshift data and the potential resolutions to the anomalous cosmic dipole seen in e.g. radiogalaxies. I am also very interested in the upcoming measurements of the cosmic redshift drift signal.
What is your view on cosmic tensions? How does your work connect with this open question in the community?
My work is directly related to the question of cosmic tensions. If there are geometric deviations from homogeneity and isotropy that are not captured by the LCDM model, we expect tensions to appear when analysing the data. In my view, it is important, in the face of the cosmic tensions, to take a step back from the usual FLRW geometrical ansatz and do as agnostic analyses of the data as possible. This is what I am working at developing frameworks for at the moment.
I am also interested in assessing the assumptions on the astrophysics side, that go into, for instance, the distance calibration step for the local determinations of the Hubble constant.
In your career so far, at what point were you the most excited, and what were you excited about?
It has mainly been when I have realised the solution to particular technical problems that I have been working on, that are perhaps not so interesting to the broad community.
What is the biggest obstacle that is slowing down your research field right now?
I think that it is probably the inertia in the scientific community to think outside of established paradigms. Scientists are very conservative and like to use the formulas and codes that they are used to. But I think that the new telescopes along with initiatives such as CosmoVerse can work in the right directions here.
What role do you think a community network like CosmoVerse can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology?
Potentially an important role. It is my impression that many people are connecting to this network.
What do you like and dislike about being a scientist?
I like everything about being a scientist. I like the research and the lifestyle. The only thing I dislike is the competition for the permanent positions.
What’s your favourite food? Why?
Herring as my grandmother used to make it.
Your favourite scientist and/or science fiction film?
2001: A Space Odyssey
How do you relax after a hard day of work?
I run along the coast close to my apartment, when there are no other people around, and then I prepare a nice meal for myself.
What non-physics interests do you have and want to share?
I like to go to art museums, the opera and music hall, and I like to winter swim and spend time in nature.
If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing?
I would have liked to write novels or poetry, if I had had the talent. But I think that everybody is better off with me being a physicist.
What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years?
Solution to dark energy problem and a window into quantum gravity.
In your view, what’s the most important challenge that humanity faces currently?
Population size and the environmental issues. Wealth/power distribution and controlling the use of technological developments in artificial intelligence, etc.
What question would you have liked us to ask you, and what would you have answered?
Question: What equation do you like the most?
Answer: The Raychaudhuri equation is a beautiful geometrical formula.