Former Taranaki woman Dr Michele Bannister has received a fellowship to help her research into the evolution of the solar system.
A Kiwi astronomy academic, whose career highlights shine like a shooting star, has received a prestigious grant to further her study into the mysteries of the universe.
Dr Michele Bannister has received one of 10 2020 Royal Society Te Apārangi Rutherford Discovery Fellowships for her work entitled “How planetary systems form and change is crucial to understanding our place in the Universe”.
The grant, which is for early-to-mid-career researchers, will support Bannister, who grew up in Urenui and attended Waitara High School, to study the evolution of our solar system during the next five years.
Earlier this year, Bannister, who has been involved in the discovery of a dwarf planet and has an asteroid named after her, was announced as a winner of a 2020 Zeldovich Medal, which recognises young scientists’ excellence and achievement in the field of space research.
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Bannister, who returned to New Zealand in February after working overseas for 12 years, said it was awesome to have received the fellowship from the Royal Society, which exists to advance the pursuit of knowledge.
“It’s an amazing level of support and one that really made me feel so reassured that we are going to be able to take this idea and really start to work with it.
Bannister’s career, which has taken her around the world and in theory has extended to the very edges of the solar system, created the pathway to receiving the fellowship.
“I was overseas for a long time to be able to build up the level of expertise for this programme, and to be able to bring that back, and then to have the country go, ‘We think this is important, we think this should keep going,’ it’s so reassuring.”
Now lecturing in astrophysics at the University of Canterbury, Bannister said her research would revolve around revealing how our solar system came to be the way we see it today.
“People like to know about the place in which we live. That’s one of the really big questions and I would like to help in contributing to answering that question.
“It is about connections, it is about this is maybe we have connections in our history to stars that lived and died well before our own in ways that we haven’t thought about yet.”
Bannister said the support she received for her passion of science while growing up in Taranaki had helped shaped her future.
“That’s the support and the environment that has helped me get to this point now. Now I can be back in New Zealand and work on it for everyone’s benefit.”
She was excited about the potential answers and information the work could reveal.
“We will be observing new interstellar objects and worlds in the outer solar system.”