Burcin Mutlu-Pakdil is a young Muslim woman who discovered a new type of galaxy. Her fascination for physics started in middle school. She wrote an essay about Einstein and became obsessed with understanding the cosmos. That’s when Burcin decided to do undergraduate studies in physics.
National Geographic / Image via MVSLIM
Discovering a new Galaxy
As a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory, Mutlu-Pakdil analyses data collected from telescopes, to try to unriddle how galaxies form and change over time. When Mutlu-Pakdil and her team analysed a little galaxy named PGC 100714, they mistook it as a Hoag-type galaxy. But Mutlu-Pakdil knew that the discovery had more secrets to reveal, so she did further research. In between the blue outer ring and the red central core, Mutlu-Pakdil found a diffused red-colored inner ring surrounding the central body. Normally, galaxies are seen as spirals, with rare ones that look different. She was looking at something that was never seen before. Burcin’s galaxy was born! Astronomers are intrigued about how such a strange object formed in the first place.
Unfortunately, she didn’t always receive the support she deserves. Her friends and relatives didn’t support her decision to move to Ankara to follow her dreams, because ‘girls shouldn’t live by themselves’. She became one of the only women in her class, while wearing a headscarf, which wasn’t permitted at that time in Turkey. She tried to find ways to cover her head but didn’t feel comfortable. Eventually, the young scientist found a more welcoming environment when she went to Texas for her master’s degree and later for her PhD in Minnesota.
With her discovery and hard work to get where she is, Mutlu-Pakdil hopes to inspire immigrants and students, especially from underrepresented communities, to chase their dreams. She emphasised that no external pressure should block your scientific curiosity and that you should follow your dreams. In 2018, she was selected as a TED fellow, one of the 20 invited change makers from around the world. Mutlu-Pakdil had never imagined that the panel would give her a voice and a presence. She tried over and over again to present the work that she wanted to share without being too technical. For her it is the way life goes, “You might not get the result you want from the first try. Every time you fail, you get up and try again, and then eventually, you get there”.