Samantha Stever in an outdoor Japanese market. Photo provided by Samantha Stever
Samantha Stever in an outdoor Japanese market. Photo provided by Samantha Stever

Samantha Stever is a physicist who works on the cutting-edge instrumentation used for the next generation of space telescopes. Her work bridges the microscopic physical properties of telescope components with their macroscopic effect on the science data. She works primarily on the LiteBIRD telescope (which is looking to test the theory of cosmic inflation) and the X-IFU (X-ray) instrument aboard the Athena space telescope. Samantha completed her undergraduate education in Cardiff, UK, before moving to France to complete her Ph.D. in Paris. She has also worked in Sydney, Australia at the Australian Astronomical Observatory. She has spent one year in Tokyo, Japan as a postdoctoral fellow at the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (IPMU), and will be moving soon to Okayama University as an Assistant Professor in the department of Physics.

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Night owl

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?

Pro-pun

3 Do you have any pets?

It is my dream to have a shiba or a mollucan cockatoo. But I have to go abroad so frequently that I don’t think I’m stable enough for a pet 😦

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

I have a Crooke’s radiometer at home and it’s the coolest thing I have. I also have a little display of ‘hamtaro’, a stuffed hamster we sent to an altitude of 29km with PILOT.

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?

Cooking

6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?

Savory

7 Do you speak any other languages?

French, and am now learning Japanese.

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

Probably something with animals. Maybe an alpaca farm? That should be okay, because nobody eats Alpaca meat. So you just raise loads of alpacas and shave them occasionally. I’d like that.

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?

Either some kind of conservation biology, like following the populations of endangered animals, or perhaps psychology.

10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?

I’d really like to go to Sénégal.

11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

When I was a kid, I read every single one of the ‘animorphs’ books – the ones where kids are given the power to change into animals, and they use it to fight invading aliens. I used to wish at my birthdays that I could do that. So maybe I’d like to be able to morph into animals, like birds, so I could just go flying sometime. Either that, or a superpower where I no longer have any anxiety!

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

I think “A Scanner Darkly” by Phillip K. Dick is a fantastic book. “Men Explain Things to Me” by Rebecca Solnit is also wonderful.
For music, the album “La Confusion” by Amadou et Miriam is my current obsession. I’d love to see them live.

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

I’m probably tired and will go for some recreational sleep. But if I’m not, either cycling around, playing video games, or reading sound lovely.

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

hugs, cheese, warm blankets

15 What beverage gives you life?

elderflower cordial is the one thing i miss the most. elderflower cordial and sparkling water. it’s just perfect.

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

at the time I thought The Giver was quite profound compared with everything else they wanted us to read.

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a sheep farmer in Australia with my best friend Aubrey.

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

Anxiety? Haha. I basically just do the things which come up. See an interesting job? Apply. Get it? Accept it. I go with the wind on things. And when I’m exhausted, the people I love (although they are mostly far away) give me the encouragement to push through. I’d be lost without my people.

19 What got you excited in science?

The first thing that ever got me excited about science was the concept of cells in biology. I thought it was amazing that all living things are made up of cells, and each of those are full of little machinery. It’s kind of amazing. With astronomy, I suppose it’s just the vastness of space and the mystery of various bits and bobs in physics.

20 What excites you about science now?

On some level you get disconnected when it’s your everyday work, but I still think it would be really nice to measure B-modes and have proof of cosmological inflation. It answers a big philosophical question (“Where did the Universe come from? How did it form?”) which really goes outside physics or astrophysics. When I take time to remember what it is we’re actually trying to do, it is quite exciting.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Haha. I love that terrible reality TV show “90 day fiance”. As an immigrant it’s just fascinating. I feel silly admitting that, but hey. It’s totally my guilty pleasure.

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

I can jiggle my eyeballs. It’s completely useless. I can also do those Magic Eye things with barely any effort and can move my eyeballs individually. Again, totally useless.

23 What is your favorite game?

Tetris!

24 What is the last book you read?

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

When I was working in Australia, we had Womens Lunches. One of the women told us that men self-nominate for things (awards, fellowships, prizes, whatever) far more often than women do. She had us think about why. For me, it felt CRAZY presumptuous to self-nominate for anything. But really, it’s not that crazy. So she told us to self-nominate for everything you can see. Sometimes it’ll work. The next year I did that and won the Patricia Tomkins undergrad thesis prize. I later got a postdoc fellowship I thought I’d never get, and I just got an Assistant Professor position I DEFINITELY never thought I’d get. So the advice here is: It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, or what you think. Just apply for everything, all the time. Take your chance. You never know what will happen. This advice has taken me to where I am now, and to 5 countries. I still think I’m kind of rubbish, but I just let other people decide that for themselves.

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

skydiving. actually, i’m so scared to do it that i don’t know if I even REALLY want to do it!

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

Don’t keep people in your life who mistreat you, make you uncomfortable, or have poor boundaries. You have inherent value in being a human being, so don’t stand for abuse or creepiness.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

Cuddles, sleep, or unhealthy food and red wine. Also watching YouTube videos of angry cats at the vet.

29 What is the last thing you watched?

Parasite.

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

I never clean out my wallet, so right now I have transport cards for Tokyo, Paris, Sydney, Toronto, Madrid, and Munich in there. I also have my rock climbing certification from Sydney in 2013, and a receipt for the Penis Museum in Reykjavik Iceland.

31 What is your favorite animal?

Probably cockatoos, or african grey parrots, or huskies, or any kind of dog, or maybe wolves. Or basically any animal. They’re all great.

32 What is your favorite book?

I don’t even know, there are too many 😦

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Raclette.

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

I don’t know but it’s probably in August. It’s hot, there are no more deadlines, and it’s socially acceptable to be on holiday.

35 What is your favorite plant?

I have this crazy philodendron in my house that got so big it couldn’t support its own weight and it fell over. That is just absurd. It has to be my favourite right now.

36 What is your favorite science fact?

Giraffes don’t drink much water. They get it mostly from plants.

37 What is your favorite season?

Spring

38 What is your favorite smell?

Sakura

39 What is your favorite sound?

soft echoey guitar

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

I guess I’m adaptable to whatever weird situation I find myself in, and that’s useful.

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

not just one word but 一期一会

42 What is your proudest moment?

Back in 2008 or so, life was not good. I was in an abusive relationship and I had zero sense of self worth. I’d probably be dead if I had stayed where I was. I don’t know how but I managed to escape and apply to University, and everything changed after that.

43 What kind of tree would you be?

weeping willow

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

The FOOD! Living in Tokyo is exciting, and Japanese food is wonderful.

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

There’s a type of cheese in Sardinia called Casu marzu which contains live maggots. It’s illegal in the EU but you can find it anyway. I haven’t tried it, I’m just saying.

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

Dr. Jess Wade. She’s always writing about other people, and it would be great if we could learn more about her! @jesswade