A fascination with space sparked a lifelong passion for Indigenous Astrophysicist Kirsten Banks.
“I was always fascinated by the weather,” says Kirsten Banks. “As a child, I’d watch the news and my favourite part was the weather report. To me, those people were predicting the future. I thought that was really cool.” She has an even earlier memory of telling her kindy classmates what she wanted to be when she grew up. After they rattled off their own aspirations – astronaut, ballerina, vet, fireman – “I came out with the biggest word of all: meteorologist.”
Turns out she wasn’t thinking big enough. Today Banks’s passion reaches beyond the earth’s atmosphere and into the galaxy – the 23-year-old Sydney-based astrophysicist and Wiradjuri woman, who in 2019 gave a Tedx talk on Aboriginal astronomy, is in the second year of a four-year PhD program at the University of New South Wales with a focus on galactic archaeology.
But as the resident TikToker for Space Australia (a platform created to share news with local space lovers) she’s equally passionate about keeping science fun. “Science can be intimidating and it doesn’t have to be,” she says. “I strive to inspire the next generation as well as re-spark a love of the universe in older generations.”
She’s been doing just that for years. As well as appearing on the ABC’s Q&A and serving as astronomer in residence on Triple M’s Night Shift, Banks was a guide at the Sydney Observatory, where she led night tours and Indigenous astronomy workshops. “We know so much about the universe through astrophysics but this is a whole different perspective that is still very scientific. It uses the night sky as a canvas for our stories, to tell us the right time to go looking for foods, when the seasons are changing and even to predict the weather through the stars.”
Seeing things differently is what drives Banks. “Our knowledge of the universe is constantly evolving,” she says. “That’s exciting because it means we’re learning more about the world around us.” Then she pauses before adding, “Just because science is constantly changing, that’s no reason not to trust it.”