Interview with Mette Friis

​Hej! My name is Mette. I grew up just north of Copenhagen, in a town whose library was surprisingly well equipped on popular astronomy books. I read a lot, and was particularly fascinated by a book series on the Voyager missions. I thought it was so amazing that we were able to send missions to other worlds, and from the age of ~ 9, I knew I wanted to be an astronomer. I ended up never working on planetary physics, but I did go on to study astrophysics.

I started studying at Copenhagen University, and went on to do my PhD at the University of Iceland. It’s a very tiny research group but it’s a beautiful place to live and my advisor always had a lot of time for me.

I did my PhD work on gamma-ray burst afterglows, e.g., studying the gas and dust in the vicinity of the burst using the GRB as a background lighthouse. A specific interest of mine from that time is dust extinction curves at high redshift and how we use them in research (incorrectly accounting for dust extinction can lead to the wrong physical conclusion and I think we, astrophysicists, tend to neglect this contribution).

What is your field of research and/or what project are you involved in at the OKC?
At the OKC I am currently working with the PoGO+ project, finishing up the interpretation of our observations. PoGO stands for Polarized Gamma-ray Observer and is a Compton polarimeter built here in Stockholm and flown on a balloon. The PoGO measurements are the first observations of polarization in the hard X-ray band (energy range 20-160 keV) and provide new data for modelling the geometry of the Crab pulsar and nebula as well as the black-hole binary Cygnus X-1. Our Crab results have been published (see the KTH press release) and I very much hope that I can say the same about Cygnus X-1 soon. I can promise some very interesting results!

What do you like/dislike about being a scientist?
I do not have much time left of my contract in Sweden, so my overall goal these days is to get the paper submitted and then I am really focused on improving my teaching skills, a part of this job which I have found I really like. I am giving some lectures in the KTH course on astro-particle physics. Speaking of leaving Sweden soon, this is definitely the part I dislike about being a scientist, the many years of job insecurity, moving from place to place. I think I am ready to call some place home!

Which of your skills are you most proud of? What new skills would you like to learn in the next year?
I am actually very proud of my ability to lead a ‘job free’ life when I am not at work. I think it is very important for the brain to leave work behind and also focus on other parts of life and I think it makes me a better scientist. I also think I am quite good at forming the big picture in my head of a particular problem or task, to see what is important and what is less so. Joining the PoGO team just 6 months before launch last year really trained my ability to hit the ground running and sort through information getting to the heart of the problem.

I would really love to be a better programmer, but most of all I want to learn to like programming! I am sure I could grow to have a better relationship with my code if I just find the right approach.

What new results are you excited about or looking forward to?
I am looking forward to the launch (and results) of future high-energy polarimeters such as IXPE! PoGO really just scratched the surface of what we can discover, for instance, about supermassive black holes. As my colleague loves to say, polarimetry opens a whole new window onto the sky, and while this has been open for a while in other energy ranges, we have so little data at X-ray energies.

What’s your favorite food?
My favorite food is most things my father cooks, especially his saltimbocca (any Italian will probably say he cooks it all wrong, but I think it is the best). I also have a very large sweet tooth, and love cake and ice cream (I also love to bake!).

Mette is a postdoc in the PoGO+ group at KTH.
Thanks Mette and enjoy the sweets!

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