SAO Instructors

SAO is taught by research-active astronomers from the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, and by PhD-qualified astronomers from various institutions and observatories around the world.

To read about some of our past and current instructors, and their "astronomical inspiration", click here

Note: This is an example allocation and may change prior to semester start.

Introductory Units

  • AST80005 Exploring the Solar System: Jackie Dohaney & Giovanna Pugliese
  • Jackie Dohaney is a Lecturer in STEM Education with a research and practice focus on authentic learning in science. She trained as a petrologist and volcanologist (specialising in monogenetic volcanism) at Carleton University (BSc, Hons; Canada) and the University of British Columbia (MSc; Canada) and worked in the mining sector in Canada and Australia from 2004-2007. After discovering a love for teaching, she started researching higher education and completed her doctorate at the University of Canterbury (New Zealand) in geoscience education. She's taught a wide range of university science and engineering courses, including mineralogy, climate change, engineering professional behaviours, science communication, and Antarctica. Her current research is focused on critical pedagogies (teaching practices) and investigating how scientists and engineers develop their professional identity and pedagogies that support marginalised learners at university.

    Dr Giovanna Pugliese received her Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Bonn, working on high energy neutrinos and theoretical modelling of GRBs at the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy. She received her Master in Physics from La Sapienza University in Rome, working on high energy cosmic rays and neutrinos, and her Master in Astronomy from the University of Bologna, working on astroparticle physics. Her fields of research range from the modelling and photometric study of GRBs and their link to UHE cosmic rays and neutrinos, to Adaptive Optics photometry of Galactic globular clusters, to the spectroscopic study of extragalactic GCs and stellar populations. After working as a researcher at several universities both in California and in Europe (UCSC, ESO, Utrecht university, Radboud university in Nijmegen), she is now a researcher at API, the astronomy department at UvA, the university of Amsterdam. At API she works in the GRBs group that study the environment / galaxies in which high redshift GRBs occur. During the last 10 years, she has also been involved in astronomy outreach and activities to bring her knowledge into schools.

  • AST80006 Galaxies and their Place in the Universe: Alister Graham (SP1). Duncan Forbes (SP3)
  • Prof Alister Graham (see above).

Advanced Units

  • AST80001 (co-coded AST20002 for undergrads) Astrobiology and the Origins of Life: Glenn Kacprzak

  • AST80002 Astrophotography & CCD Imaging: Duncan Forbes
  • Prof Duncan Forbes has been a faculty member in the Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing since August 2000. A New Zealander, who did his PhD at Cambridge, Duncan has also spent time at the Space Telescope Science Institute, Lick Observatory in California and most recently as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham in England. Over the years, he has worked on various aspects of galaxy evolution with a recent fondnes for globular clusters in external galaxies.

  • AST80003 (co-coded AST30002 for undergrads) Cosmology and the Large-scale Structure of the Universe: Darren Croton

  • AST80015 Planetary Science: Kurt Liffman
  • Dr Kurt Liffman has a B.Sc.(Hons) in Mathematics from the University of Melbourne and PhD in astrophysics from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Rice University (Houston, TX). Kurt has worked on problems related to the formation of the Solar System at NASA's Johnson Space Center (Houston, TX) and AMES Research Center (Mountain View, CA). Kurt also worked at the CSIRO, where he was affiliated with the astrophysics group at the Australia Telescope National Facility . He currently works at Swinburne as a research scientist and sessional lecturer at SAO. Kurt is also a visiting scientist at the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology. Around two decades ago, Kurt and Michael J. I Brown published a theory suggesting that the some major components found in meteorites (and, possibly, the planets) were formed or reprocessed close to the early Sun and distributed through-out the early Solar System by bipolar jet flows or accretional flows that were produced close to the early Sun in the first few million years of the Solar System. This theory has obtained some preliminary observational confirmation with observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope that show exactly this process occurring in the protostellar systems Ex Lup and HOPS 68. Kurt is currently working with Prof. Sarah Maddison (Swinburne) and the Swinburne planetary science/astrophysics group on projects to better understand how Stellar Systems are formed.

  • AST80016 Stellar Astrophysics: Chris Flynn and Ryan Shannon
  • Dr Chris Flynn is currently working on Fast Radio Bursts and a complete refit of the Molonglo Radio Telescope -- in order to find more of this enigmatic source and to pinpoint the galaxies from which they originate. FRBs are millisecond, extremely bright flashes in the radio spectrum that take place every few minutes, and can come to us from halfway across the universe. Prior to working in radio astronomy, Chris spent 25 years working primarily on space-based optical missions, such as the European Space Agency's Hipparcos satellite, and more recently on its follow-up mission, GAIA. His main interest was to measure the amounts of matter in the Milky Way -- both visible and dark -- by analysing stellar motions. The link to FRBs is that they can be used to measure the amounts of visible and dark matter in the cosmos as a whole, amongst many things.

    An expert in time-domain radio astronomy, A/Prof Ryan Shannon completed his Ph.D. in astronomy at Cornell University, graduating in 2011. Ryan then relocated to Australia (a world leading country in radio astronomy), first holding research fellowship positions at CSIRO's Australia Telescope National Facility, then jointly with CSIRO and International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at Curtin University before joining Swinburne. Ryan's main research interests are in studying pulsars and fast radio bursts, both to understand these extreme objects, and use them as astrophysics tools. For example, observations of an array of ultra stable millisecond pulsars can be used to ultra low frequency gravitational waves from binary supermassive black holes, while fast radio bursts can be used to find and map the faint hot gas in the intergalactic medium. Ryan is a principal investigator of the CRAFT project, which uses the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope to search for pinpoint the positions of fast radio bursts and is project scientist for the MeerTime large survey project, which monitors pulsars with the MeerKAT array in South Africa to undertake tests of fundamental physics and search for ultra low frequency gravitational waves.

  • AST80017 Studies in Space Exploration: Deanne Fisher

  • AST80018 Tools of Modern Astronomy: Alister Graham (Tayyaba Zafar / Giovanna Pugliese / Melissa Hulbert)
  • Prof Alister Graham (see above).

    Major Project units

    • AST80011 Major Project: Computational Astrophysics : Adam Deller
    • A/Prof Adam Deller studied electronic engineering at Swinburne University as an undergraduate before receiving a PhD in astrophysics from Swinburne in 2009. Since then, he has been awarded postdoctoral fellowships at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory ( and the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy before taking up a staff astronomer position at ASTRON and then returning Swinburne as a staff member.

      His research focuses on the physics of compact objects (neutron stars and black holes) primarily by way of observations with radio telescopes. A current focus is uncovering the origin of Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), which are enormously powerful millisecond-duration radio flashes that appear to be generated outside our own Galaxy. Closer to home, he also studies neutron stars within the Milky Way galaxy, both in the form of radio pulsars, and X-ray binaries (where the neutron star is accreting gas from a companion object). His specialty is performing astrometry on these systems, using radio telescopes spread across continents to make carefully calibrated images with extremely high angular resolution. This links with his interest in radio astronomy instrumentation: he has developed the "DiFX" distributed correlator that is used by a number of operational radio interferometers, and is involved with a number of working groups contributing to the design of the forthcoming Square Kilometre Array (SKA). He has previously instructed both Exploring the Solar System and Computational Astrophysics.

    • AST80013 Major Project - Observational Astronomy: Mel Hulbert
    • Melissa Hulbert completed a BSc. (Hons) in Physics at the University of Western Sydney, during which she worked as a night guide/lecturer at Sydney Observatory (part of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences) where she now works full-time as an Astronomy Programs Coordinator. In between, she contributed a column to Lab News Magazine and then later spent some time as Assistant Editor on both Lab News and Today's Life Sciences Magazines. She is a member of the Australia Science Communicators and in 2000 she was part of the 'Science in the Pub' team that won an Australian Eureka Award for Science Promotion. Melissa also teaches astronomy courses at WEA and the St George and Sutherland Community College. She has been an active member of Sutherland Astronomical Society for over 15 years with her main interest in astro-imaging. She initiated the formation of the Astro-Imaging group which she coordinated for ten years before stepping down at the end of 2014. Melissa's main interests have always been comets and eclipses, but if it's up there and not beyond the range of the equipment she's using then she's happy to snap its portrait. Melissa has been learning to read and translate Egyptian hieroglyphs and has been able to combine this with her interest in archeoastronomy. When time allows, Melissa likes nothing better than spending time imaging the wonders of a clear, dark night sky with a few friends.

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