Pakistani astrophysicist Dr Manza Alam has been a part of Hubble and James Webb Space Telescope missions. Dr. Manza, who has crossed important milestones in her international career with hijab, is an example.
There is no research in Pakistani educational institutions regarding astronomy, especially astrophysics. But the talented youth of Pakistan are performing valuable services and achievements in educational and research institutions around the world. One of these scientists is Dr. Manza Alam, who received his PhD in astrophysics from Harvard University. She has been a part of missions like Hubble and James Webb Telescope. Dr. Manza is an avid traveler and is one of National Geographic’s Young Explorers.
Who is Dr. Manza Alam?
Dr. Manza’s parents belong to Pakistan and India. He spent his childhood in New York. Dr. Manzah told Deutsche Welle that the role of parents is very important in his career. His first introduction to astrophysics came at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where he learned to ask questions and find answers through research. She says that what fascinated her most about astrophysics was that it sought answers to questions about which information was still lacking.
Dr. Manzah graduated from Connie Hunter College in Astronomy and Physics in 2016 and completed his PhD in the same subjects from Harvard University. The focus of his thesis was the analysis of data from the Hubble Telescope mission, which collected and classified important information about the Solar System and other planets beyond.
What is the focus of Dr. Manza Alam’s research?
Dr. Manzah has been associated with the Carnegie Earth and Planet Observatory as a postdoctoral fellow since 2021, where his research focuses on Earth-like planets, where essential ingredients for the development of life such as oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, water, etc. are available. Such planets are called “exoplanets” in scientific terms, and the search for them is also an important part of the James Webb Space Telescope mission.
Dr. Manza told DW that at the Carnegie Earth and Planet Observatory, she analyzes data from the James Webb Space Telescope and other large space telescopes. In research with her team, she is trying to figure out how information from the atmospheres of planets can provide information about their past history and signs of life there.
What is special about the data from the James Webb Space Telescope?
Dr. Manza Alam told Deutsche Welle that with the Hubble telescope, scientists could see optical or only visible lights at night, while the James Webb telescope could easily detect infrared lights. From June 2022, data from the James Webb telescope started coming in, which surprised scientists because it was completely different from the theoretical models presented before them.
Dr. Manza explains that she is primarily a data analyst and is analyzing new data from the James Web camera. During this time, he obtained important information about the photochemistry of some planets. The atmospheres of these planets contain molecules of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. According to Dr. Manza, “We expect even more amazing discoveries from the James Webb telescope in the future.”
How long will it take to discover signs of life on a planet?
Dr. Manza Alam told Deutsche Welle that the planets that are currently the focus of his research are called “hot Jupiters” in astronomical terms. Although they are not very helpful in the search for life on other planets, they help in understanding the physical and chemical properties of planetary environments.
According to Dr. Manzah, rocky planets like Earth are more important in the search for life on other planets. We expect the presence of “biosignatures” such as oxygen, ozone, methane, carbon dioxide and water on these planets, which may have been the origin of life on Earth. She further explains that even if scientists find all these bio-signatures on a planet, they still cannot tell for sure whether the planet in question is suitable for the development of life or not.
Did hijab cause problems in career?
Dr. Manza Alam further told Deutsche Welle that the number of women in astronomical research is negligible. She has always been proud to be one of the few Guinean Asian women working in astronomy. According to Dr. Manzah, she often faces negative attitudes due to hijab. An American emeritus professor once tried to harass her when she went to attend a seminar on astronomy.
Dr Manza says that women face harassment or gender discrimination in the workplace and it is important to speak up against those responsible instead of remaining silent. Dr. Manza is very active in this regard and wants women to be fully informed about the challenges related to gender discrimination. She wants more women from South Asia to come forward in this field, for which she usually organizes talks and lectures.
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