Sanika Iyer

Planet Talk with Sanika Iyer

By Sanika Iyer

Witnessing the dazzling Neowise comet in the sky piqued my initial interest in the topic of astronomy. This phenomenon made me curious about our universe and realize how much is yet to uncover in the cosmos. Furthermore, the recent images from the James Webb Space Telescope have invigorated the study of deep sky objects and inspired me to continue my study.

I began looking for opportunities to further immerse myself in this discipline and took a few introductory courses in astronomy. To capture my learnings, I started my blog, “Planet Talk.” In this blog, I publish articles about space and earthly phenomena for my viewers to read. As Vice President of my school’s Astrophysics Club, I got increasingly involved with my high school peers. I worked with other officers to create engaging presentations for our members, and I brainstormed interactive games and live demonstrations to model complicated occurrences in space, such as black holes. I also became head of outreach and education lead at Hands-on-Stem, a student-led nonprofit that holds STEM workshops for students in marginalized communities and raises awareness about educational inequalities to close the opportunity gap.

While researching for a blog post on famous astrophysicists, I noticed that there were mostly male professionals in astronomy. Research shows that women make up only 20% of the world’s astronomers, as shown here and here. Even within the astrophysics club, I was one of the few girls in a club filled with men. I realized how difficult it is for girls of my age to identify with this fascinating area and find role models that look like them. I wanted to change that perception. I also observed that the material covered in astrophysics clubs is theoretical in nature. Without personally witnessing the planets, star clusters, and nebulae with our own eyes, it is difficult for many students to get excited. I started a nonprofit, called Planet Talk, to provide access to telescopes and role models for students so that they can pursue this captivating field.

I founded Planettalk to make a difference in my local community. This 501(c)(3) nonprofit helps to provide telescopes to middle and high school students and promotes awareness of astronomy by interviewing professors across the country. We conduct stargazing events and promote community participation in local events. So far we have raised $2500 and donated 3 telescopes to high school clubs. I have also interviewed 3 professors in astronomy so interested individuals can learn from their career paths. I used my volunteering at UC Lick Observatory for outreach and to help find others for their public program events. I admire Dr. Becky Smethurst, Andrea Ghez, Nancy Roman, Katie Mack (a.k.a @astrokatie), and Carolyn Shoemaker (of shoemaker-Levy fame), all powerful females who prove that girls too can also pursue and succeed in this discipline.

I plan to pursue astronomy and physics in college and continue making contributions to this field. I would like to make an impact in the field of astrophysics by continuing my nonprofit and its benefits to our community.

Sanika Iyer is a guest author. Connect with her or read more at Planettalk.org.