Photo of Nikki Arendse standing in front of water and trees
Photo credit: Karoline Hill

Why did you choose to study science? What do you like/dislike about working as a scientist?

I was always interested in mathematics and physics, but my choice to study astronomy specifically can be traced back to high school when we had a general science course about the Universe. We learned about the life cycle of stars and how they die, and I thought it was the most interesting thing ever. I went home and finished the course material in one go.

I love working as a scientist because we actually get paid to figure out how the Universe works! Which is, in my opinion, the most interesting thing you can do with your life. I also really appreciate that the work is so diverse: from brainstorming to coding, from collaborating to teaching, and from writing to presenting. I feel like I'm always developing myself in diverse ways. And finally, the work hours are flexible and we get to travel a lot.

What I dislike about working as a scientist is the way the academic system works. Until we manage to secure a permanent position, researchers live with constant job uncertainty and are generally forced to move to a different country every few years.

What is your field of research and/or what project are you involved in at the OKC?

My field of research is cosmology, and in particular, I'm interested in the expansion rate of the Universe. This is currently a hot topic because there's a tension between two types of methods to measure this quantity, which might hint at a gap in our understanding of the Universe. At the Oskar Klein Centre, my work focuses on searching for lensed supernovae, which can be used as a new probe to measure the expansion rate. 

What are your research plans for your time in Sweden?

My research plans are to optimise the search for lensed supernovae and their use in cosmology. Currently, we are looking for them with the Zwicky Transient Facility, but we are preparing for a new survey telescope that is being built in Chile: the Vera Rubin Observatory. This new telescope will allow us to peer deep into our Universe, while at the same time covering a large area of the sky every night, which makes it perfect for discovering lensed supernovae. My plan is to become an active member of the Dark Energy Science Collaboration (DESC) and work together with scientists all over the world to get the best results from the Rubin Observatory data and obtain new insights into the Universe.

Which of your skills are you most proud of?

I really enjoy giving presentations about my work, both for academic talks and for the general public. In these presentations, I try to incorporate some creative aspects, such as paintings and visualisations of the data, to better convey my story. 

A drawing of an eye looking towards a galaxy with a supernova behind.
Nikki's illustration of a lensed supernova.

What new skills would you like to learn in the next year?

In the next year, I would like to expand my knowledge of machine learning techniques. At the Oskar Klein Centre we have many experts on that topic. We also have a biweekly machine learning club meeting, in which we discuss new papers or have informal workshops. 

What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to?

Data from the James Webb Space Telescope, which launched last December, will be available this July! Even though those first observations will not be directly linked to my research projects, I'm very excited to see the first images and how this will advance our picture of galaxy formation and the early Universe.
I'm also excited for the data from the Vera Rubin Observatory when it will come out, but this will likely take a few more years.

Why did you choose the OKC? 

I choose to come to the Oskar Klein Centre because I had been for a visit before, and I really liked the active and collaborative atmosphere. Additionally, I was excited to live in Sweden and explore the nature.

How do you relax at the end of a work day?

By going bouldering with colleagues, swimming in one of the beautiful lakes, or by hiking in the forests. Stockholm is great because it has so much nature located very close to the city! Disclaimer: I haven't yet spent a full winter here.

What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years?

In the next 50 years, I hope we will build a better intuitive understanding of dark matter and dark energy. Additionally (and probably more crucial to the survival of the planet), I hope we will have found alternative green energy sources and have learned to fabricate artificial meat and dairy products that are indistinguishable from the real ones.